Academic Faculty

Michael Houghton, PhD

Professor, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology

Medicine & Dentistry

Chemistry

About Me

Michael Houghton is an international leader in hepatitis virology and, in 1989, was a member of the team that first identified the hepatitis C virus (HCV). He came to the University of Alberta in 2010 as the Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Virology. He was awarded the Robert Koch Prize in 1993 and the Lasker Award in 2000. In 2013, he become the first person in history to decline the Gairdner Foundation International Award, stating that he felt it would be unfair to accept the award without including his colleagues and co-discoverers of HCV. 


Research

Hepatitis C virus (HCV)

Research is aimed at developing a HCV vaccine that can protect against the many heterogeneous forms of this virus that occur globally. Every year, many hundreds of thousands of people become infected with HCV world-wide and so there is an urgent need to develop a safe, efficacious vaccine that can be delivered conveniently to both the developed and developing worlds. Previously, vaccine candidates designed to elicit cross-neutralizing antibodies or cross-reactive T cell responses have been shown capable of partially protecting animals from experimental viral challenge but a number of key scientific issues remain. One of these concerns elucidating a system for the efficient synthesis of the envelope glycoproteins gpE1 and gpE2 and relating their structural properties with the ability to elicit cross-neutralizing antibodies. Such antibodies will be measured in cell cultures producing HCV as well as in the novel SCID-uPA mouse infection model developed by Professors Kneteman & Tyrrell and colleagues at the University of Alberta. A second key goal relates to defining immunological correlates of protection against HCV infection and will involve assessing the relative roles of neutralizing antibodies and CD4+ helper and CD8+ cytolytic T cells in the protective immune response. Mechanisms through which chronic, persistent viral infection suppresses the activity of specific cellular immune responses and co-exists despite the presence of neutralizing antibodies will also be addressed with a view to developing a role for vaccination along with antiviral drugs in treating pre-existing infected patients.

The current standard-of-care for HCV patients is the combined administration of interferon-alpha and ribavirin with which approximately 50% of patients are cured. The mechanisms of action of these drugs and newer antivirals will be investigated with a view to improving their effectiveness.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV)

Like HCV, HBV is a major cause of morbidity and mortality around the world. Following the pioneering work of Professor Lorne Tyrrell and colleagues at the University of Alberta, a series of nucleoside analogues are now available that inhibit the viral reverse transcriptase resulting in effective suppression of viremia and concomitant amelioration of disease. However, the supercoiled viral DNA genome persists in many treated patients meaning that they require prolonged treatment and with a risk of drug-resistant viruses emerging. Therapeutic vaccination strategies are being investigated in order to boost cellular immune responses capable of eradicating infected hepatocytes as possible adjunct therapy along with antiviral drugs.

Viral etiology of inflammatory disease - the search for causative viral pathogens.

Many diseases of man like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, cryptogenic encephalitis, cryptogenic hepatitis/cirrhosis, certain types of diabetes, epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis and others could be caused or exacerbated by an acute or persistent viral infection by various infectious pathogens. Working with leading University of Alberta clinical groups and meta-genomics researchers already investigating some of these diseases (Professors Mason, Wong, Fedorak & Van Zanten), collaborative research will be conducted attempting to identify contributing viral etiologies for some of these major conditions using genomic, proteomic and immunological analyses.


Houghton Lab members

HOUGHTON, Dr. Michael

PI

CLEMENTIN, Dr. Ana

Operations Manager

NIEMAN, Dr. James

Medicinal Chemist

KANDADAI, Dr. Srinivas

Senior Synthetic Chemist

BELOVODSKIY, Dr. Alex

Research Associate

LANDI, Dr. Amir

Research Scientist

LAW, Dr. John

Research Associate

LOGAN, Dr. Michael

Research Associate

PAGADALA, Dr. Nataraj

Research Associate

FREEDMAN, Dr. Holly

Research Associate

BHAT, Dr. Rakesh

Research Associate

KUNDU, Dr. Juthika

Postdoctoral Fellow

SARHAN, Dr. Mohammed

Postdoctoral Fellow

SAHU, Dr. Kamlesh

Postdoctoral Fellow

SANTER, Dr. Deanna

Postdoctoral Fellow

HOCKMAN, Darren

Lab Manager

POIRIER, Lesley

Technician

CRAWFORD, Mark

Technician

WININGER, Mark

Technician

CHEN, Chao

Technician

MINTY, Gillian

Technician

HOU, Xiaoqing (Ervin)

Technician

LOWEN-Dobler, Darci

Lab Assistant (part-time)

IBRAHIM, Iman

Admin Assistant (part-time)

WONG, Jason

PhD student