There is a constant struggle in the health care system between ever-evolving pathogens and the development of treatments for them. Viruses adapt over time, evading some treatments or developing resistances to others. This leads to some treatments becoming ineffective, all the while inflicting patients with other, unpleasant side-effects. Dr. Maulik Badmalia wants to find better, less harmful treatments for viral infections.

Most anti-viral treatments today focus on preventing infected cells from spreading the virus. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own; they need a host cell to reproduce for them. Once a virus has infected a host cell, it forces the cell to make more of the virus. Eventually, the cell dies and the virus, which has multiplied in the cell, spreads to other cells. Current treatments seek out and trap viruses within infected cells, keeping the virus trapped until the infected cell can be cleaned out of the system. This sort of treatment can often come with unpleasant side effects. Viruses have also proven effective at evolving to get past these barriers, lessening the effectiveness of some treatments.

Badmalia’s research, however, focuses on treatments that would prevent viruses from entering the cell in the first place.

The key to this? Proteins.

When a virus enters the host system, it must first attach itself to a cell. Conveniently for the virus, the surface the cell is covered with various proteins, some of which allow the virus to anchor itself onto the cell and begin infecting it. Badmalia’s research investigates which proteins allow viruses to attach and spread themselves; knowing this, he can then design treatments that would target the interaction between that protein and the virus. Essentially, rather than containing an already infected cell, Badmalia hopes to prevent the virus from touching or spread in the cell altogether.

Currently, Badmalia is focusing on three projects, each of which deals with a different virus: Hepatitis B, SAR-CoV2 (COVID-19), and the Zika virus. By studying how each virus interacts with human proteins, Badmalia believes he can develop novel treatment that not only would prove more effective, but also have less negative side-effects than current treatments.

"Finding affordable and better treatments for these infections is of great importance, as it would reduce the number of infected patients, sufficiently freeing economic and social resources that can be used in other avenues. It will also alleviate the suffering of patients and their families."

Badmalia is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Science, under supervision of Dr. Trushar Patel. Prior to his time at the U of L, Badmalia received his PhD from India’s national research facility, The Institute of Microbial Technology in Chandigarh.

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