2018 Researcher of the Year Deepak Shukla
Deepak Shukla is well-known for making several major contributions that clarify how the herpes simplex virus-1, which infects the mouth and eyes, causes inflammation and how it might be blocked from entering cells.
HSV-1 is one of the most common human pathogens, affecting between 50 percent and 90 percent of people worldwide. Much of Shukla’s work can also be applied to understanding and fighting the herpes simplex virus-2, which affects the genitals.
Shukla, who is the Marion Schenk Endowed Professor in Ophthalmology, has attracted more than $11 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health over his 18 years at UIC.
“I became interested in the herpes simplex-1 virus because a couple of my close friends in graduate school suffered from mouth sores, and as a bacteriologist at the time, it wasn’t far for me to become seriously curious about viruses and how they work,” said Shukla, who is also professor of microbiology and immunology in the UIC College of Medicine.
His groundbreaking study that found that an enzyme called heparanase is responsible for the tissue-damaging inflammation caused by HSV-1 infection shed light on a question scientists had long puzzled over: how does the virus cause inflammation in a part of the eye that has no blood vessels? For inflammation to occur, there must be a way for immune cells to get to the site of infection or injury and these cells travel in the bloodstream. Shukla is currently looking at drugs that might calm the action o fheparanase, but he is also looking at it as a general biomarker for inflammation in the eye. His heparanase studies were recently published in Nature Communications and Cell Reports.
His most recent research hints at a potential new class of drugs to treat HSV-1 in the eye and HSV-2 infections that works completely differently than currently available treatments. Shukla showed in a Science Translational Medicine paper that a small molecule called BX795 can clear HSV-1 infection in donated human corneas and in the corneas of lab mice. He is working on further developing BX795 into a drug that he hopes can be used to treat both corneal and genital herpes infections.
Other studies Shukla has led point to a potential nanoparticle-based vaccine treatment for HSV-2. Published in The Journal of Immunology, his study found that zinc-oxide nanoparticles shaped like jacks can not only neutralize the virus on contact, preventing it from causing an infection, but they also allow the experimental animals to still develop a natural immunity to the virus.
In addition to his research, Shukla mentors five graduate, three post-doctoral students, and three junior faculty members. He hosts a famous pot-luck meal for his department close to Thanksgiving each year where he regularly brings in six or seven vegetarian Indian dishes that showcase his culinary skills. Shulka said he also produces one oil painting a year. Last year’s painting was an abstract.