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Brian Oliver honours projects

What is special about viral infections in people with COPD?

When most people have a rhinovirus infection they experience symptoms of the common cold.   However, when people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)  have a rhinovirus infection they often have a life threatening exacerbation.  The reason why this occurs is not known.


The two prevailing hypothesise are: 1) in COPD there is an exaggerated inflammatory response to infection (either due to increased pro-inflammatory cytokine production or defective viral clearance cause by an impaired innate immune system), and 2) when cells are infected with a virus they have impaired responsiveness to corticosteroids – the predominant anti-inflammatory used in COPD.

This project will establish if the innate (anti-viral) immune response to rhinovirus is: 1) intrinsically different in lung cells from people with COPD in comparison to cells from people without COPD, and 2) if rhinovirus infection initiates a state of steroid insensitivity.  

TECHNIQUES: Cell culture, virus assays, qPCR, Western blotting, ELISA

Do epigenetic changes occur in COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major global cause of ill-health and mortality which is increasing in prevalence worldwide and constitutes a huge socioeconomic burden.   Whilst the aetiology of COPD is multifactorial, the main risk factor in western societies is cigarette smoking.   However, why some smokers develop COPD and others do not is unknown. 

In-vitro, we have found that lung cells from people with COPD have a very different response to cigarette smoke in comparison to cells from people without COPD.  We hypothesise that this differential response is caused by epigenetic modifications.  In this project you will investigate which epigenetic changes occur in COPD, and understand the role of these changes in the response to noxious stimuli.  

TECHNIQUES: Cell culture, ELISA, molecular biology

Does rhinovirus reduce the efficacy of asthma medications?

During virus-induced asthma exacerbations bronchodilators such as β2-agonists become ineffective.  In our previous studies we have found that the infected bronchial epithelium drives this phenomenon, for example it promotes desensitisation of the β2-adrenoceptor on airway smooth muscle cells. 



Epidemiological evidence has provided clear links between traffic pollution and both the severity of respiratory viral infections and exacerbations of respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD.  The cellular mechanisms driving this interaction are not known.   Traffic pollution contains many noxious stimuli, but particulate matter (PM) which are small particles containing a mixture of noxious chemicals are a particular concern. This is due to the observation that PM can remain airborne for long periods of time, and are small enough to penetrate deep into the lung and gain access to the blood stream. 

As independent stimuli particulate matter (PM) from traffic pollution and viral infections are known to increase inflammation but their combined effect is not known.  In this project you will use traffic PM collected from sites around Sydney and explore if pre-treatment of lung cells with PM alters the inflammatory response to rhinovirus infection.