Dr. Garcìa-Sastre is Professor in the Departments of Microbiology and Medicine and Director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He is also Principal Investigator for the Center for Research on Influenza Pathogenesis (CRIP), one of five NIAID Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance (CEIRS). For the past 20 years, his research interest has been focused on the molecular biology of influenza viruses and several other negative strand RNA viruses. During his postdoctoral training in the early 1990s, he developed for the first time, novel strategies for expression of foreign antigens by a negative strand RNA virus, influenza virus. He has made major contributions to the influenza virus field, including 1) the development of reverse genetics techniques allowing the generation of recombinant influenza viruses from plasmid DNA (studies in collaboration with Dr. Palese); 2) the generation and evaluation of influenza virus vectors as potential vaccine candidates against different infectious diseases, including malaria and AIDS; 3) the identification of the biological role of the non structural protein NS1 of influenza virus during infection: the inhibition of the type I interferon (IFN) system; and 4) the reconstruction and characterization of the extinct pandemic influenza virus of 1918 (this paper was selected as paper of the year by Lancet). His studies provided the first description and molecular analysis of a viral-encoded IFN antagonist among negative strand RNA viruses. These studies led to the generation of attenuated influenza viruses containing defined mutations in their IFN antagonist protein that might prove to be optimal live vaccines against influenza. His research has resulted in more than 250 scientific publications and reviews. He was among the first members of the Vaccine Study Section of the NIH. In addition, he is an editor for Journal of Experimental Medicine, PLoS Pathogens and Journal of Virology and a member of the Editorial Board of Virology, Journal of General Virology and Virus Research. In 2009 he was elected Beijerink Professor by the Dutch National Academy of Sciences.
Human pandemic influenza viruses are characterized by the presence of an antigenically novel viral hemagglutinin which allows viral replication even in the presence of pre-existing influenza virus immunity. Such hemagglutinins are derived from influenza virus strains that circulate in a non-human host animal. As viral strains adapted to non-human hosts are in general unable to transmit well in humans, pandemic influenza viruses require some levels of adaptation before being able to jump from one host to humans and initiate a pandemic. The novel pandemic H1N1 influenza virus, despite being genetically similar to other swine influenza virus, started the 2009 influenza human pandemic. We are investigating the genetic and molecular characteristics responsible for the success of the novel H1N1 virus in humans. Our results will be presented and discussed.