Tremendous progress has been made in the fight against viral diseases and the battles still to be fought in virology are of utmost importance for public health, particularly with the emergence of mosquito-borne viral diseases (arboviruses), such as dengue, Zika or chikungunya. Smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s thanks to a World Health Organization (WHO) vaccination campaign and a global program is currently underway to wipe out poliomyelitis. The Institut Pasteur is involved in this program as a WHO Collaborating Center for Enteroviruses and Viral Vaccines.
The Virology Department is home to several National Reference Centers (CNRs) and WHO Collaborating Centers (WHOCCs), which enable the Institut Pasteur to help diagnose, monitor and characterize emerging diseases.
The 17 research units making up the Virology Department have the following research goals — to understand how viruses enter and multiply in cells; how they interact with the defense mechanisms of the hosts they infect (humans); what the molecular bases of their virulence or loss of virulence (attenuation) are; and which events enable animal viruses to cross species barriers and spread in humans. The laboratories monitor the spread of infections and the growth of areas colonized by insect vectors and try to predict the emergence of new outbreaks for human populations. The researchers also identify the antibodies able to neutralize viral strains and study the mechanism of action of neutralizing antibodies. All this is done, of course, with a view towards developing vaccines or identifying antiviral molecules.
Research is focused on a great many viruses:
- respiratory viruses, such as the influenza or SARS virus;
- cancer-causing viruses, such as papillomavirus (HPV), Human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV) or hepatitis B and C viruses;
- retroviruses, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV);
- viruses infecting the nervous system (rabies, yellow fever, polio, enterovirus A71, etc.);
- insect-borne viruses that cause severe diseases (dengue, chikungunya, Zika, Rift Valley fever);
- and viruses responsible for hemorrhagic fevers (Lassa fever, Ebola).
Members of the department are involved in specialization courses in virology, offered by the Institut Pasteur, in the Institut Pasteur International Network (taught by Noël Tordo, Roberto Bruzzone, Anna-Bella Failloux, etc.) and online via a series of MOOCs (vaccinology, innate immunity, medical entomology, etc.).