Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Interview with Advances in Tumor Virology Editor in Chief Dr Frank J Jenkins

This interview is with Dr Frank J Jenkins, Editor in Chief of Advances in Tumor Virology, a new electronic open access journal published by Libertas Academica.

Tom: What would you say is the primary focus of your research effort (and how do you refer to your 'sub-area')?

My primary research is on Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpesvirus (KSHV), the causative agent of Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS), pleural effusion lymphomas and some forms of Castleman’s disease. Our research is focused on the epidemiology, immune responses and pathogenesis of this virus. My sub-area is molecular virology – studying viral gene functions.

Tom: What do you consider to be the most significant developments arising from research in your area?

In collaboration with Charles Rinaldo, we have led the field in identifying T cell responses to KSHV among infected individuals. We have also identified DC-SIGN as a cellular receptor for KSHV on several immune cells including dendritic cells and activated B cells.

Tom: What do you consider to be the most significant open questions and research challenges in your area?

It is unclear how KSHV transforms a cell leading to KS development. It is also unclear why men are at a significantly greater risk for development of KS than women.

Tom: Tell us about your collaborative research. Who else do you directly work with and what are the aims of your collaboration?

I have collaborated since 1995 with Charles Rinaldo at the University of Pittsburgh. Our research is focused on T cell responses to KSHV and studies on the cellular receptor for KSHV, DC-SIGN. I also collaborate with Clare Bunker at the University of Pittsburgh on the role of KSHV in increasing prostate cancer risk among men in the Caribbean island of Tobago.

Tom: Is balancing all these activities challenging? How do you deal with it and what tools do you find useful in doing so?

Keeping busy is part of the excitement. Like many of my colleagues, I work long hours; the key is good time management.

Tom: When did you decide to be primarily involved in the field that you are now in?

I have worked in the field of herpesviruses since 1979 when I entered graduate school. When KSHV was first reported in 1994, I jumped at the opportunity to work on a newly discovered tumor virus.

Tom: What resources do you find indispensible for your research work?

I think without a doubt, the internet is the most single indispensable tool used in research. The ability to search for investigators working in the same field and the ability to search literature databases is as important as any single research tool.

Tom: What do you think about the development of open access publishing and open access development? How has it changed your perspective on research or development practices?

Open access publishing allows an investigator’s research results to reach a much greater audience than publishing in a conventional journal. As I mentioned earlier, the utility of internet access allows almost anyone to read about your research if it’s published through an open access journal.

Tom: What books do you think should be required reading for researchers working in your area?

Individuals interested in working on herpesviruses must read current chapters/reviews on the field of herpesvirus. It is imperative that they have a clear understanding of the molecular biology of herpesviruses and then focus on the specifics of the individual virus they are studying.

Tom: What books are current on your reading list?

I am currently reading “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen. []

Tom: Do you teach any courses? Is so, which ones?

I teach several courses:
  • Advanced Herpesviruses
  • Viral Pathogenesis
  • Laboratory Methods
Tom: Which historical research figures do you think have most influenced you in how you think about research? Why are they significant?

The strongest research influences in my life have been my research mentors. Drs Fred Rapp and Mary K. Howett at Penn State University and Dr. Bernard Roizman at the University of Chicago. Dr. Rapp taught me to always question dogma and when results do not agree with dogma, trust the results and keep digging. Dr. Howett taught me how to structure my research life; how to deal with students (she is my example when I am interacting with my own students). Dr. Roizman taught me how to view my research in terms of goals; how to plan appropriately and how to write research manuscripts.

Tom: Which meetings do you attend on a regular basis?

I attend meetings organised by the American Society for Virology.

Tom: If you could change something about how research in your area is conducted, used, perceived, or resourced, what would it be?

The conduct of research is driven by funding sources. As a result, what one focuses on is dependent in large part on what NIH and other funding agencies have deemed important. What is missing is the ability of a scientist to pursue their own ideas; free of outside influence. If you look through the history of science, many of the most important discoveries, turning points, etc were made as a result of independent research rather than the more common applied and focused research that occurs today.

My thanks to Dr Jenkins.