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Crystal Boudreaux, Ph.D. Tackles Rotavirus Replication

Crystal Boudreaux, Ph.D. has worked at WVSOM for about a year and a half, but she has spent the last six years in the lab researching rotavirus replication in order to find a solution to reducing the risk of childhood diarrheal deaths worldwide.

In West Virginia, enteric illnesses are the second most common type of disease outbreak, and rotaviruses fall into that category, according to Boudreaux, who is an assistant professor of microbiology at WVSOM. Rurally populated areas in the state may be one attribute to increased outbreaks.

"The spread of rotavirus is based on cleanliness and hygiene. Norovirus is also popular, but we don't have a vaccine for that virus. Rotavirus is its close cousin and answering questions about it can also answer questions about Norovirus," she said.

Rotaviruses are the leading cause of childhood diarrheal death worldwide due to dehydration, Boudreaux said. That is why her lab is focused on cellular host factors that assist in rotavirus replication and why her team is working to develop improvements to vaccination efforts and new antiviral treatments.

"Research remains important because we want to study how host factors help the virus replicate. Host factors play a significant role in response to not only rotavirus infections but all viral infections and that makes what we do here in the lab applicable to the virus community as a whole," she said. "What we do in terms of host factor studies and multiple virus infections is two-fold — it's a model for other viruses to elucidate host factor involvement and it correlates the new external selective pressures in a population."

As is the case with most research, finding a solution can be a long process and one that requires patience.

"The topic we are studying could last my entire career," Boudreaux said. "I always tell my students that 362 days of the year you will get a negative result and just those three days you will have an aha moment. Patience is a virtue in science, and something that drew me to it is curiosity. It's new questions and new curiosities that keep you waking up every day to do this. It's a challenge to figure out a successful outcome."

Ever since her graduate school training at Mississippi State University and her postdoctoral training at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute in Roanoke, Va., Boudreaux said she has always been fascinated and intrigued by viruses because they require a host to survive.

"It's not a symbiotic relationship. We don't want a virus. I've always been intrigued by how viruses are the maestro of the orchestra in our body. They redirect immune function and they usurp our own proteins. There is a lot that we still don't know about these processes and it's intriguing to me," she said.

She knows that the success of research is rarely dependent on one person, which is why the contributions of her lab team — consisting of three medical students and two technicians — are so invaluable. Research opportunities have always been attractive to medical students as well.

"In the medical profession it takes a team of people to be successful. I may be teaching but my lab still needs to run day to day and the technicians are the ones who run the labs in the building. They keep the day-to-day operations going. My team, technicians and students, are the ones who have all hands on deck and carrying out the experiments," she said. "Students gain an understanding of vaccine development and drug mechanisms. It gives students a good perspective from bench to bedside. The care they give in their clinics really stems back to research, ideas and findings of a scientific community as a whole."

Boudreaux and her team's research is funded by a West Virginia Idea Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) NIH grant. Last year, she received $30,000, which was pivotal in purchasing research equipment for protein purification that allows the team to isolate particular proteins and study their function.

Date Added: 
Friday, January 4, 2019