Studying the battle between cell and virus

Gerald McInerney researches the molecular-level battle between human cells and viruses. He is also a teacher who is passionate about developing the study of virology at KI.

Gerald McInerney
Gerald McInerney researches, among other things, covid-19. Photo: Ulf Sirborn

What are you researching? 

“I’m a virologist and am researching the interaction between virus and cell. Viruses are so tiny and simple that we don’t even class them as organisms, and yet they can infect and take over large, complex cells. But the cell isn’t defenceless and has a battery of protective mechanisms that presumably often prove helpful. We currently understand just a fraction of these interactions between viruses and cells.” 

What does your research entail? 

“We employ many different techniques for answering the questions we face and therefore collaborate with researchers from many other areas. For example, in recent years we’ve needed help in the field of structural biology to determine the three-dimensional structures of various protein complexes. 

Above all, I study the Semliki Forest virus, a model virus and one of virology’s answers to the lab mouse and fruit fly. I was the first one to show that the virus can trigger the same kind of stress reaction in cells that occur at harmful temperatures or under oxidative or chemical stress. We now know that cells react like this to many different types of virus. 

At the outbreak of the pandemic, we put all current research on hold to devote ourselves to SARS-CoV-2. We’d already established a research tool based on fragments of antibodies called nanobodies so were one of the first groups in the world to produce a nanobody that had an antiviral effect against COVID-19.” 

What do you hope to achieve? 

“What drives me is sheer curiosity: I want to find out the mechanisms of this because it’s so incredibly fascinating. But I also hope, of course, that we can help to identify viral vulnerabilities that can lead us to new future treatments. I’m also very passionate about teaching and want to continue developing virology as a subject at KI.” 

About Gerald McInerney 

Professor of Molecular Virology at the Department of Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology 

Gerald McInerney was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1973. He graduated with a degree in Microbiology from University College Dublin in 1994 and earned his PhD in 2000 from the Institute for Animal Health, now the Pirbright Institute, UK. That same year, he started his postdoc research at KI’s Department of Microbiology, Tumour and Cell Biology, where he went on to become a senior researcher and group leader. He was made docent in 2013. 

Notable amongst McInerney’s contributions to education at KI are leading the virology module of the Immunology and Microbiology course and the Degree Project course in the Biomedicine programme and as director of the summer schools for upper secondary students. 

Gerald McInerney was appointed Professor of Molecular Virology at Karolinska Institutet on 1 November 2021.