The 2022 CeZAP Infectious Diseases Symposium was held on Friday, Oct. 7 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and it was quite a successful event that left us all inspired and looking forward to the next.

The Symposium began with Kylene Kehn-Hall, professor of virology from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and Director of CeZAP, Dan Sui, the Senior Vice President, Chief Research, and Innovation Officer, and Aimée Surprenant, the Dean of the Graduate School, welcoming everyone to this year’s symposium. Then it transitioned to the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program in Infectious Disease (ID IGEP) Program directors, Ann Stevens, professor of microbiology in the College of Science and co-director of the ID IGEP, and Kevin Edgar, professor of sustainable biomaterials in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and co-director of the ID IGEP to introduce ID IGEP and its progress. ID GEP has been quite triumphant in its second year with 118 students involved in the program; this includes 16 cohort students and 102 that have elected to be affiliated with ID IGEP. The interdisciplinary graduate program in infectious disease aims to advance their student’s scientific perspectives by providing them with opportunities to explore different transdisciplinary research methods in numerous colleges and departments.

The day then kicked off with the three keynote speakers, beginning with Captian Jennifer McQuiston, DVM and MS. McQuiston is a Virginia Tech alumna who now works at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as the Deputy Director of the Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, and Manager of the 2022 CDC Multi-National Monkeypox Response, and she spoke about her research titled “CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology: Recent Outbreak, Future Horizons.” McQuiston discussed how her division at the CDC is what the movies portray the CDC to be, as her department constantly finds themselves in hazmat suits exploring caves for the causes of a disease outbreak. She then goes into how her division is tackling monkey pox currently and how, as surprising as this outbreak was, there were hints that it was coming, which can prepare us for future outbreaks of similar viruses. McQuiston further explains that in order to prepare ourselves to fend off these outbreaks we need to work on immunity as there is a current “waining global immunity” against diseases like smallpox. McQuiston continues to elaborate on how vaccines are developed, the spreading patterns of cases, and the details of experimental therapeutics. McQuiston’s research is concluded with an emphasis on expertise and innovation when it comes to infectious diseases and how the CDC tackles vaccine-preventable zoonotic diseases. Additionally, an audience member comments on their enjoyment of McQuiston’s presentation as they mention how “ it’s rare that we hear talks from people in government research positions.”

Next, we heard from T. Jake Liang, MD, who came all the way from the National Institute of Health where he is the Chief of Liver Diseases Branch, an NIH Distinguished Investigator, and a Member of the National Academy of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Liang spoke about his research titled “A Drug’s Purpose: From Erectile Dysfunction, Allergy to Hepatitis C and Covid-19.” Liang spoke about how certain drugs may not be suitable for their initial purpose, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be perfect for another use. For example, Liang mentions how the drug popularly known as Viagra was initially meant to treat cardiovascular problems but has been refocused to be used for erectile dysfunction. He goes over how the process for developing drugs has many identifying, trial, and evaluating steps that lead to finalizing the repurposing and repositioning of the drug. Overall, throughout his research, Liang emphasizes the importance of developing a broad spectrum when it comes to quantifying and generating more active compounds targeting viral fusion in order to perfect the identification of drugs and their purpose. 

Last but not least, our final keynote speaker for the morning was Sue VandeWoude, DVM, another Virginia Tech alumna who joined us from Colorado State University where she is a distinguished professor as well as a Member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Director of the One Health Institute, and the Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at CSU, and she presented her research titled “Endogenous-exogenous Viral Interactions during Feline Leukemia Virus Infection.” Vande Woude spoke about how a virus can ultimately impact viral infections along with the processes of various transmission experiments. She detailed how there are different forms of infections as well as different types of virus interactions and palindromic sequences. After explaining the significance of viruses and their clinical processes and outcomes, Vande Woude goes on to discuss how specific viral interactions along with genomic and genetic analyses. She also adds how different interferences among natural infections tie back to transcripts that occur across genomes. Vande Woude concludes her research by emphasizing how retroviruses can impact biological functions, specifically during Feline Leukemia Virus Infections. Afterward, an audience member remarks that "VandeWoude gave a riveting talk that has generated research questions for me." 

After the keynote speakers, the rest of the day included presentations on CeZAP’s 10 thematic areas which included oral and poster presentations by over 90 presenters of both students, postdocs, and faculty within CeZAP. The presentation topics ranged from predicting viruses, antibiotics, environments, and other research focusing on diseases and how they are spread, as well to the speaker’s research findings and how they plan on furthering their studies. Lastly, the symposium concluded with presenting the presentation awards to the winners as follows: the oral presentation winners were Greyson Moore and Paige Van De Vuurst, and the poster presentation winners were Zachary Baker, Mecaila McClune, and Rusha Pal. 

Overall, this year’s CeZAP Infectious Diseases Symposium was a huge success that highlighted the incredible work that is happening within CeZAP. This was an event to be remembered as we look forward to next year’s CeZAP symposium. 


Written by Anna Barker