The University of Southampton
Woelk lab

 

Dr. Woelk’s laboratory uses genomics technologies (i.e. RNA-Seq) to investigate the mechanism of human disease, and to develop diagnostic and prognostic classifiers. Active areas of research in the Woelk lab include the following: HIV eradication, reverse vaccinology, asthma, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer immunotherapy.

The long-term research goals of the Woelk lab are to develop a diagnostic test for a human disease (e.g. schizophrenia) that becomes widespread in clinical use, and develop a new subunit vaccine that provides widespread protection against a bacterial pathogen (e.g. M. tuberculosis).

Find out more about our specific research projects below.

HIV eradication

Dr. Woelk is Director of the Genomics Core of the Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication, a collaboratory of over 20 researchers working on a strategy to eradicate Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). In HIV-positive patients on antiretroviral therapy, the virus is maintained in a latent state. Although the availability of antiretroviral therapy has greatly increased quality of life in these patients, the virus is never completely cleared and will rebound as soon as patients interrupt therapy. Finding a cure for AIDS therefore remains an important research goal.

We are actively involved in several research projects that explore the effectiveness and mode of action of novel therapeutics against HIV.

Mental health disorders

To what extent is it possible to determine the phenotypic differences amongst individuals with psychiatric illnesses from their completely sequenced genomes? We use clinical data, generated from RNA-Sequencing, and computational analysis to understand when you can, and why you cannot, predict the biology of an individual from their whole-genome gene expression data. The effect of a psychiatric illness is often heterogenous within the population, and our aim is to understand how these differences originate in the interactions between genetic, environment, life history, parental and stochastic sources of variation.

Members of the lab are focused on researching the genetics of psychiatric illnesses such as bipolar disorder, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Schizophrenia. These studies are often focused on using whole-transcriptome gene expression to predict course, outcome and treatment response. Under this realm of research our methodological approach lies somewhere at the intersect of biostastistics, bioinformatics, computational biology, machine learning and more holistic gene-network based approaches.

Reverse vaccinology

Reverse Vaccinology is still a young, rapidly expanding field and one that could make a real difference to the healthcare of the human population. Reverse Vaccinology uses bioinformatics algorithms and takes into account the entire genome of the organism. It has many potential benefits over “traditional” vaccinology such as being cost effective, rapid and capable of identifying all possibly protective antigens from an organism.

There has been a recent E.U. Intergovernmental Conference that called for a greater focus on vaccines and improved technology for preventing infections from bacterial pathogens. This is down to a combination of the ever-increasing resistance to antibiotics and the cost efficiency of preventative vaccine technology. Dr. Woelk’s laboratory has already published an important paper in this field, “Improving reverse vaccinology with a machine learning approach” (Bowman et al. Vaccine 2011), in which a highly sophisticated approach to reverse vaccinology was undertaken.

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