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How Basic Research and Virology Teaching Led to High Impact Public Health Research
The Stefan S. Nicolau Institute of Virology

The Stefan S. Nicolau Institute of Virology (IVN) is a non-profit institute of the Romanian Academy.

With a staff of 29 permanent scientists and 60 technical support, IVN is one Romanias leading centers in basic biomedical research, medical virology, and virology training). Since 1949 the the institute hosts the chair of virology of the Medical School in Bucharest (at the Carol Davilla University of Medicine and Pharmacy) where today more 800 students take virology courses.

Institute

Foundation and past research

The institute was founded in 1949 by Professor Stefan S. Nicolau, a Pasteur Institute pioneer in virology, who formulating with Constantin Levaditi the concept of viral oncolysis, that is the process by which viruses can kill tumors (for review see Medical Hypotheses 1995, 44, 359-368). With Radu Portocala, Nicolae Cajal and their students (N. Draganescu, J. Samuel, R. Dinu, E. Nastac, M. Popescu, H. Aderca, M. Ianconescu and many others) the institute strongly promted basic research and also launched medical virology in Romania. What is unique about IVN is that starting from basic biomedical research, the institute initiated studies of major public health relevance, from epidemiology of viral hepatitis, identification of a major AIDS outbreak in children to the identification of West Nile virus as the etiological agent of a large outbreak of meningoencephalitis in Romania.

Led between 1967 and 1992, by Professor Nicolae Cajal, IVN produced a live attenuated measles vaccine, linked subacute sclerosing panencephalitis to measles virus infection (C. Cernescu), demonstrated that HBsAg of hepatitis B virus binds polymerized albumin (V. Babes), introduced molecular biology in Romania (L. Popa, R. Repanovici) and supported research on viral oncolysis (E. Nastac, M. Stoian), membrane biophysics (O. Hoerrer), antiviral chemotherapy (O. Esanu; A. Thomas), interferon production (G. Danielescu) and signaling (in collaboration with Prof. L.M. Popescu), herpes viruses (A. Mutiu). IVN established an influenza vaccine program (A. Petrescu) and a diagnosis unit (P. Atanasiu, Y. Copelovici).

In 1989-1990 IVN reported (Lancet 1990, 667, 335) the first AIDS outbreak in children (I.V. Patrascu and S.N. Constantinescu), which eventually led to the introduction of HIV testing in Romania. Studies conducted by C. Cernescu on horizontally HIV-infected children identified the F HIV subtype as being most prevalent, a finding still under intense study.

Led since 1992 by Professor Costin Cernescu, IVN initiated several programs on arboviral infections, AIDS, viral hepatitis, respiratory viral diseases, antiviral therapy, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. In 1996 in collaboration with US teams from CDC, Fort Collins and US Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases, Ft. Detrick, IVN identified West Nile virus as the etiological agent of a large outbreak of meningoencephalitis in Romania.

Research directions

Emerging viral diseases and the early warning and control of pediatric HIV infection, viral hepatitis, arboviral meningoencephalitis and surveillance of pandemic influenza viruses. The Program led by S. Ruta applies molecular biology to the monitor HIV replication and fitness, hepatitis B and C and arboviral encephalitis. Since 2000 IVN hosts an NIH and Fogarty Center funded International Research Core Laboratory, which investigates the molecular basis of the high prevalence of the HIV-1 F subtype. Within a long-term collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA, several projects on Pediatric AIDS have been funded via the NIH, the Baylor UTH Houston Center for AIDS Research and other international agencies.

Antiviral and anti-cancer therapy.The Program led by C.C. Diaconu is establishing screening assays for antivirals, multidrug resistance factors, and cell therapy strategies using umbilical cord and adult stem cells (M. Chivu, in collaboration with Prof. I. Popescu, the Fundeni Institute). The Program collaborates with the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Brussels on genetics of human myeloproliferative disorders (JAK2 V617F and Mpl mutations) and with the Life and Brain Center, Bonn, Germany and A. Obregia Psychiatric Hospital, Bucharest (Prof. M. Serbanescu) on the identification of susceptibility genes associated with complex genetic diseases.

• Virus-cancer relationship and the use of viral vectors as oncolytic agents. The Program led by G. Anton studies viral oncogenesis, develops chimeric proteins to be utilized as vaccines against cancer.

• IVN develops mathematical models of viral transmission (C.N. Zaharia), belongs to the FluNet and is a WHO Center for respiratory viral diseases. IVN hosts the Center of Immunology of the Romanian Academy founded by A. Sulica and led by L. Brasoveanu.

Education

The Virology Chair of the main University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Romania is located in IVN (S. Ruta) and provides lectures and practical training medical students (800 students/year). A long-term collaboration with Prof. L.M. Popescu, at the Institute Victor Babes and the Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy brings expertise in pathology and ultrastructure. Recently IVN organized several international conferences, i.e. Bridges in Life Sciences, funded by the EU, World Bank, USAID and NIH.

Perspectives

IVN competes for national and international grants and is modernizing 600 m2 for seeding junior tenure-track groups via international competition, for a P3 laboratory and for establishing incubator space for collaborations with biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies.

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