Dr. Robert Anderson
Inflammation, Infection & Immunity
Combating common and formidable diseases:
Infectious diseases researcher Dr. Robert Anderson wants to stop two of the world’s most prolific and challenging viruses: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and dengue virus.
Spread by mosquitoes and related to the West Nile Virus, the dengue virus causes flu-like symptoms, aching bones, skin rashes and, in severe cases, internal bleeding. As many as 100 million people are infected with dengue virus each year. Like West Nile virus, dengue is being seen more and more in temperate climates, as warmer temperatures allow the mosquitoes that carry the virus to survive outside the tropics.
“We’re learning how dengue virus infects human cells and provokes the immune system to damage the blood vessels,” says Dr. Anderson, a professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Dalhousie Medical School and scientist in the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at the IWK. He is working with colleagues in Taiwan to develop a vaccine against dengue, and has recently collaborated with researchers at the University of Alberta to learn more about the infectious mechanisms of its cousin, the West Nile Virus. As he notes, “Because the dengue and the West Nile are closely related, what we learn about one can be applied to combat the other.”
In the area of RSV, Dr. Anderson has used his knowledge of the virus’s mechanisms to design and patent a new vaccine against RSV, in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. “It’s very important to develop a vaccine against RSV,” he notes. “It is the number one cause of serious respiratory diseases in infants, with sometimes fatal consequences.”
Dr. Anderson is also working closely with Dr. Jean Marshall and other colleagues at Dalhousie to understand why RSV causes acute inflammation and resulting congestion of the airways. “If we can learn what immune cells and processes are involved, we could develop an anti-inflammatory therapy to stop the congestion,” he says, “It is the congestion that is potentially deadly.”