This year, the Foundation for Research on Viral Diseases has granted the Young Virologist of the Year award to Doctor of Philosophy Ilona Rissanen. In addition, the Foundation is awarding ten smaller grants to other young virologists.
Throughout her career, Ilona Rissanen has focused on investigating unknown viral structures through X-ray crystallography.
From an archaeal virus found in geysers to cross-species pathogens
In her doctoral dissertation, completed at the University of Jyväskylä’s Department of Biological and Environmental Science, Rissanen investigated the capsid, or viral shell, structures of bacteriophage P23-77, a virus found in geysers that infects bacteria. These structures revealed that this virus found in extreme conditions represents an ancient virus type belonging to the same virus lineage as the human adenovirus.
Since then, Rissanen has conducted research at the University of Oxford on zoonotic viruses underlying febrile diseases. Zoonotic viruses, or viruses that are transmitted between animals and people, cause serious epidemics, since new viruses of the type occur constantly, while specific treatments are missing.
Rissanen has released the capsid structures of the Hantaan virus that causes Korean haemorrhagic fever and the Mojiang virus, found in China in 2012, that is related to Henipaviruses underlying encephalitis. Knowledge of viral structures helps in the identification of cells susceptible to infection, as well as in the development of, among other things, viral vaccines.
Rissanen’s research findings have been published in the highly esteemed Nature Communications journal, among others.
In 2017, the Academy of Finland awarded postdoctoral researcher funding to Rissanen. In her research, Rissanen aims to find out how Hantaviruses, which cause haemorrhagic fever, enter the host cell and how this can be blocked with the help of, for example, neutralising antibodies. Rissanen is conducting her research in a group led by Associate Professor Juha Huiskonen at the University of Helsinki’s HiLIFE Institute.
As regards the control of future epidemics, it is of essential importance to be as familiar as possible with viral groups that may give rise to new pathogens. Viral research conducted at universities is significant for the development of diagnostics and potential treatments.
Laura Kakkola, Foundation for Research on Viral Diseases
tel. 050 5747101
Ilona Rissanen, Institute of Biotechnology, HiLIFE
tel. 040 5209690