January 21, 2016
Sigma Xi President Mark Peeples has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His research investigates a virus that puts more infants in hospitals each year than any other cause.
For the bulk of the last 41 years, starting on his first day of graduate school, Peeples has been investigating respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Approximately 100,000 U.S. children are hospitalized each year because of it. One hundred or more American infants die from the virus each year, but in developing nations it causes over 100,000 infant deaths each year. It also causes “excess” deaths in the elderly during the winter months, about half as many as influenza virus.
As a professor at Ohio State University with a lab at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Peeples and his team’s ultimate goal is to develop a vaccine that will protect infants from RSV disease. Their focus is on a live attenuated RSV vaccine that would be given around 6 months of age.
To get there, much has been learned and much has yet still to be learned about how the virus works. Forty years ago, his graduate advisor identified the virus protein responsible for attaching the virus to a target cell. Then, 15 years ago Peeples and his collaborators found that RSV only infects the ciliated cells that line a human’s airways. Just recently, they published the identity and location of the RSV receptor on these ciliated cells: it’s a chemokine receptor on the cilia.
They are also working to identify the region on the RSV attachment protein that interacts with its receptor and to understand what triggers the RSV fusion protein. The fusion protein causes fusion of the virus and target cell membranes to spill the viral genome into the cell and initiate infection.
Peeples and the other elected AAAS Fellows will be recognized for their contribution to science at the AAAS Fellows Forum in February 2016 during the AAAS Annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Ninety-one of the Fellows in this class are Sigma Xi members.
“It is wonderful to be recognized, particularly by my colleagues at AAAS where I have been a member almost as long as Sigma Xi,” he said.