Saving the world with virus research

R. Holland Cheng, professor of molecular and cellular biology in the University of California (Davis campus), has been developing novel oral vaccinations against enterovirus infections. The novel vaccinations offer an alternative delivery which would replace injections.
Cheng has done research in Sweden and in the US and last December he was appointed in the Finland Distinguished Professor Programme.

What drew you to this area of research?

The original interest for me was to save the world. One has to see the change in the world to believe it. For me, researching viruses offers this on a smaller scale by learning from their evolutionary path with human host, and by reusing their adaptability in our body to engineer their structure for nano-scale medicine.

What are the overall goals of the enterovirus vaccination research?

We want to develop a tool to see changes inside the cell as early as possible. The research on a vaccine with Hepatitis E like-virus showed that the vaccines could be delivered through the digestive system which provides an alternative delivery channel. Thus, in the future, vaccinations could be given in food: the proteins in the stomach protect it whilst the virus prevents the infection.

What exactly is the effect of the vaccinations in fighting against asthma and diabetes?

If we are able to prevent the infection early enough, we can also prevent the diabetes and asthma from appearing.

What is your next research objective?

There is no sense of projecting a next objective because objectives transform as the research progresses towards my goal. In other words, we work in an undogmatic manner from aim to aim truthful to the discovered facts along the way. If I had to name one, it would be to advancement of the diagnosis and finding prevention by detecting specific viruses for the host.

What do you hope to gain from the collaboration with business world?

In this kind of basic science that we do, we obviously need a strong community. Partnering with companies enables realizing the results in practice through vaccine design. The extent of collaboration also makes it possible to utilise industrial models in the prevention of these diseases.

What do you like best about your work?

Researching viruses make it possible to build something, they include a sort of basic society in them. The circle of history can be seen in the structure of viruses, so it is a great way to understand life. I also enjoy teaching, of course.

What do you do in your free time to get away from research?

I go outdoors, that the best way to relax.