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Vincent J. Munster, Ph.D.
Building 28, Room 1A132
903 South 4th Street
Hamilton, MT 59840-2932
Phone: 406-375-7489
munstervj@niaid.nih.gov

Laboratory of Virology

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Vincent Munster, Ph.D.

photo of Vincent Munster

Chief, Virus Ecology Unit, LV

Major Areas of Research

  • Natural reservoirs of emerging viruses and elucidation of the underlying biotic and abiotic drivers of zoonotic and cross-species transmission events
  • Evolutionary dynamics of emerging viruses in the context of virus-host ecology
  • Modeling zoonotic and cross-species transmission of emerging viruses and the efficacy of outbreak intervention strategies
 

Program Description

Emerging viral diseases are a major challenge to the safety of the world in the 21st century. The emergence of Ebolavirus, avian influenza H5N1, Nipah and Hendra viruses, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-coronavirus (CoV) and, more recently, the novel Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)-CoV, and avian influenza H7N9 has revealed the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the drivers of infectious disease outbreaks.

Birds, mammals, and arthropods are the principal source of most emerging viruses in the human population. Very little is known about the interaction of the viruses and their respective natural hosts and the changes in virus-host ecology resulting in cross-species transmission events, such as outbreaks in humans.

The main objectives of our research program aim at the identification of the underlying biotic or abiotic changes in virus-host ecology that allow these emerging viral pathogens to cross the species barrier. Recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of a unilateral focus on field research on one hand and experimental research on the other, we set out to combine the best of both approaches in one research program, where we aim to identify drivers of cross-species transmission from data gathered in the field and model these drivers under experimental conditions in the lab.

To identify natural reservoirs of emerging viruses and to enhance our understanding of the underlying biotic and abiotic drivers of zoonotic and cross-species transmission events

The incorporation of host ecology in pathogen surveillance networks enables us to study the complex relationships between virus and host ecology. Currently, field study sites have been initiated in the Republic of the Congo, where we initiated long-term studies on the role of fruit bats in the ecology of Ebolavirus. To monitor the seasonal, weekly, and daily migration patterns of natural reservoirs such as fruit bats, we will use satellite telemetry. Linking seasonal biological phenomena (appearance of fruit bats in the area, fruiting and flowering events of food sources, and dates of outbreaks) with virus prevalence data will likely result in the identification of driving biological forces behind temporal and spatial patterns of virus prevalence. Research in the Republic of the Congo is performed with our collaborators of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Laboratoire National de Santé Publique in Brazzaville and focuses both on the public health and the conservation aspects of infectious diseases.

See the field study location in Google maps.
Visit the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Experimental modeling of zoonotic and cross-species transmission of emerging viruses and the efficacy of outbreak intervention strategies

For a wide variety of novel emerging infectious viruses (e.g., Nipah virus, Ebolavirus, MERS-CoV), no prophylactic or therapeutic intervention measures are currently available to prevent or contain outbreak events. In addition, very limited information is available on the route of zoonotic and human-to-human transmission for most of these viruses. Currently, our best hope to prevent or intervene in future outbreaks of these viruses lies in the potential to efficiently block transmission and thereby spread of the outbreak. In order to efficiently establish prevention strategies, detailed knowledge on mechanisms of pathogenicity and transmission (contact transmission, fomite transmission, aerosol transmission, or foodborne or vertical transmission) in the context of abiotic (temperature, humidity, airflow) and biotic (routes of transmission, immune status, receptor distribution, amount of shed virus) factors is needed. The newly developed transmission models will be used to evaluate the efficacy of current outbreak intervention strategies, such as vaccination and antiviral therapies. A more comprehensive understanding of transmission events is likely to make an important contribution to the control of emerging zoonotic infections.

Training, capacity building, and knowledge transfer

The field program of the Virus Ecology Unit operates from the International Centers for Excellence in Research (ICER) at the Laboratoire National de Santé Publique, Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo. The goal of the ICER program in the Republic of the Congo is to facilitate the expansion of local research capacity by training young scientists and improving laboratory and clinical infrastructure. The Virus Ecology Unit has been actively involved in training local scientists in molecular diagnostics for a variety of diseases (e.g., Ebolavirus, chikungunya virus, dengue virus, and yellow fever virus) and has developed collaborative research programs with local researchers.

Biography

Dr. Vincent Munster received his Ph.D. in virology from Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 2006. During his Ph.D. studies, Dr. Munster studied the ecology, evolution, and pathogenesis of avian influenza viruses. He continued his training in the department of virology at the Erasmus Medical Center from 2006 to 2009, where he worked within the Center for Research on Influenza Pathogenesis and Surveillance (CRIPS) focusing on pathogenicity and human-to-human transmission of influenza A viruses. Dr. Munster joined the Laboratory of Virology as a visiting fellow in 2009 to expand his research interest in the ecology of emerging viruses to include filoviruses and henipaviruses. Dr. Munster was awarded the European Scientific Working Group on Influenza (ESWI) Best Body of Work Award for Young Scientists in 2011. In 2013, Dr. Munster established the Virus Ecology Unit as an independent tenure-track investigator. The mission of the Virus Ecology Unit is to elucidate the ecology of emerging viruses and drivers of zoonotic and cross-species transmission. The Virus Ecology Unit uses a combined field and experimental research approach and conducts research at the state-of-the-art high- and maximum-containment facilities of the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, as well as at field study sites in Africa (the Republic of the Congo, Mali) and the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago).

Research Group

photo of the Virus Ecology Unit members

Neeltje van Doremalen, Ph.D. (Visiting Fellow)
Trenton Bushmaker (Biologist)
Shauna Milne-Price (Post-baccalaureate IRTA)
Kerri Miazgowicz (Post-baccalaureate IRTA)

Selected Publications

Mombouli JV, Bitsindou P, Elion DOA, Grolla A, Feldmann H, Niama FR, Parra HJ, Munster VJ. Chikungunya virus outbeak, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, 2011. Emerg Infect Dis. In press.

Munster VJ, de Wit E, Feldmann H. Pneumonia from human coronavirus in a macaque model. N Engl J Med. 2013 Apr 18;368(16):1560-2.

Herfst S, Schrauwen EJ, Linster M, Chutinimitkul S, de Wit E, Munster VJ, Sorrell EM, Bestebroer TM, Burke DF, Smith DJ, Rimmelzwaan GF, Osterhaus AD, Fouchier RA. Airborne transmission of influenza A/H5N1 virus between ferrets. Science. 2012 Jun 22;336(6088):1534-41.

de Wit E, Bushmaker T, Scott D, Feldmann H, Munster VJ. Nipah virus transmission in a hamster model. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011 Dec;5(12):e1432.

Munster VJ, de Wit E, van den Brand JM, Herfst S, Schrauwen EJ, Bestebroer TM, van de Vijver D, Boucher CA, Koopmans M, Rimmelzwaan GF, Kuiken T, Osterhaus AD, Fouchier RA. Pathogenesis and transmission of swine-origin 2009 A(H1N1) influenza virus in ferrets. Science. 2009 Jul 24;325(5939):481-3.

Munster VJ, Baas C, Lexmond P, Waldenström J, Wallensten A, Fransson T, Rimmelzwaan GF, Beyer WE, Schutten M, Olsen B, Osterhaus AD, Fouchier RA. Spatial, temporal, and species variation in prevalence of influenza A viruses in wild migratory birds. PLoS Pathog. 2007 May 11;3(5):e61.

Visit PubMed for a complete publications listing.

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Last Updated July 25, 2013