This is an interview with a PhD student of the Disease Intervention Strategies projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.
Interview with Mirte Pascha of the Development of novel broadly protective anti-influenza virus strategies project at Utrecht University.
To fight current and future pandemics more effectively, Mirte Pascha closely studies the influenza virus. The corona pandemic underlines the importance of her work.
‘What attracted me to virology is how dynamic viruses are. Take the influenza virus: it constantly finds ways to evade our immune systems and to infect different species. For my PhD project, I am developing antiviral peptides and antibodies that have potential therapeutic applications and can teach us about vulnerable parts of the virus. I am also working on improving the way we present the viral proteins to the body for vaccination.
Everything I do is aimed at fighting current and future viruses more effectively. Current influenza strategies are aimed at fighting specific strains every time, but this is not helpful when the virus adapts and will certainly not help against a new emerging strain. What if we could identify and target novel vulnerable parts that are shared between viruses? It could make the difference between taking a flu shot every year or just once in your life and it would prepare us against new viruses.
I frequently use the phrase ‘pandemic threat’ when talking about my research, but only after the start of the corona pandemic did I come to understand the huge impact of such an outbreak. The current pandemic has emphasized the importance of my work and it definitely motivates me. The way I see it, I am contributing to the fight against a future pandemic.’