Leigh Brown  


The scale of the global HIV pandemic is difficult to grasp. UNAIDS estimates over 37 million people are living with HIV infection worldwide. Huge breakthroughs in understanding have been made and there are now many antiretroviral drugs but still no effective vaccine. A major recent development has been the distribution of antiretroviral drugs on a large scale, particularly in Africa, and nearly 1/2 of all people living with HIV are receiving therapy. Both in the developed world, and, with expanding access to antiretrovirals, in the developing world, it has become vital we use those drugs most effectively while learning how the virus is continuing to be transmitted within infected populations.

HIV has acquired resistance to all drugs available, which can be transmitted. Nation-wide surveillance programmes based on HIV sequences provide an important resource for monitoring this and can reveal much about the structure of the epidemic in different risk groups. We analyse viral sequences using techniques from statistics, quantitative genetics and informatics to develop models of how the virus spreads, and how it interacts with the human host and how it responds to antiretroviral therapy.

Another pandemic, 2009 H1N1 influenza ("swine flu"), recently infected the global human population, reminding us that influenza killed more people in the last century than HIV has done so far. The swine flu pandemic fortunately had lower mortality than previous influenza pandemics, but the outbreaks of the H5N1 and H7N9 avian influenza strains have recently raised the spectre of a high virulence pandemic. We have studied genome sequences of influenza viruses to identify genetic determinants of virulence and host range as well as the origin of recent outbreaks and to track the changes in the genome of swine flu as it transitions into a seasonal influenza.

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