Postbac Spotlight—Studying an Elusive Virus

 
Photo of Alvaro Hobbs

Alvaro Hobbs, postbac in the Structural Virology Section, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases

Credit
NIAID

Alvaro Hobbs, postbac in the Structural Virology Section, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases

Credit: NIAID

Alvaro Hobbs is a postbac in the Structural Virology Section in the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases. He was a postbac participant in the Intramural NIAID Research Opportunities (INRO) initiative, a unique opportunity for recent graduates (undergraduate or master’s) from U.S. populations underrepresented in the biomedical sciences and those dedicated to the promotion of diversity and inclusion.

Tell me about your research and how it contributes to the mission of the lab.

I am currently engaged in projects with the Structural Virology Section focused on how hepatitis C virus (HCV) establishes and maintains a chronic infection. While current antiviral drugs are effective at clearing infection, they do not protect against reinfection. Under the guidance of Dr. Joseph Marcotrigiano, I express recombinant HCV protein complexes from mammalian tissue culture and purify them for cryo-electron microscopy data collection at Rocky Mountain Laboratories. In a separate project, I am studying antibody binding to the envelope glycoproteins, which are good candidates for vaccine design given their exposed nature. This work is adding to our understanding of why vaccine efforts have struggled thus far.

What do you enjoy most about being a postbac?

Being able to focus most of my time on research has allowed me to be more introspective about what exactly I want to study. I have also enjoyed how friendly and helpful everybody has been; the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases is very collaborative, and having the ability to go into another lab to ask for suggestions/protocols has enhanced my research experience.

What was most surprising/unique/interesting about working at NIH?

All the amazing researchers you get to see in person. One day you are watching Dr. Doudna explain how she co-discovered CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing. The next day you are seeing Dr. Fauci present on HIV/AIDS. And then [you hear] Dr. Collins recollect on when he sequenced the human genome. The list goes on…

How has this experience prepared you for your future career?

I feel more confident in my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in basic biomedical research. Dr. Marcotrigiano works closely with us, which has been a great learning opportunity. Getting experience in an interdisciplinary lab where I have learned molecular, structural, and biochemical concepts has given me a better idea of what I want to study. The NIAID Office of Research Training and Development has also been very helpful with the application process.

How did INRO contribute to your overall experience at NIH?

Meeting others with similar backgrounds and goals was a great experience; I met my current roommate through the program, which was a big plus. INRO also facilitated me finding a lab that aligned with my interests; I saw Dr. Marcotrigiano give a presentation and reached out to him soon after.

What advice would you give to future INRO trainees?

Participate in postbac events/clubs. Absorb as much information as possible. Set aside enough time to focus on your applications. Every morning, make a checklist of what you need to get done.

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