Health Care and Travel & Tourism

International herpesvirus conference picks Grand Rapids

July 19, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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More than 500 researchers and medical professionals from around the world will be in Grand Rapids July 20-24 for the 38th annual International Herpesvirus Workshop.

The world’s major international research conference on herpesvirus, it is in the U.S. this year, at DeVos Place, for the first time since 2010, having previously been in Gdansk, Poland, and Calgary, Canada.

“The IHW is the single most important gathering of herpesvirus researchers in the world,” said IHW 2013 co-chair Steven J. Triezenberg, head of Van Andel Institute’s Laboratory of Transcriptional Regulation. Part of the research being done at VAI focuses on the ways that genes becomes activated when herpes simplex virus initially infects cells.

“One important focus this year is on latency in the virus — how and why it goes quiescent and reactivates at a later time,” said Triezenberg.

2,400 rooms

Doug Small, president of Experience Grand Rapids, said the choice of Grand Rapids for the prestigious IHW 2013 bodes well for West Michigan.

More than 2,400 rooms have been blocked at the Amway Grand Plaza for the six days around the conference.

He noted the past conferences have been hosted by major cities around the world, so IHW 2013 “is evidence that with the Medical Mile’s globally recognized health science facilities like the umbrella organization, the Van Andel Institute, Grand Rapids is and will continue to emerge as a destination for future international groups.”

Herpesvirus

Latency is a hallmark of all nine of the herpes viruses known to affect human beings, one of which is known as HHV3, which causes chickenpox in children and can reactivate much later in life to cause shingles. Another is the Epstein-Barr virus, the major cause of infectious mononucleosis, and yet another is cytomegalovirus, the leading cause of birth defects and childhood disabilities in the U.S.

“The initial infection often rather quickly subsides,” Triezenberg said. “But the virus stays in our bodies for the rest of our lives, often hiding in nerve cells and blood cells, ready to re-activate in times of physical or emotional stress.”

According to co-chair Philip E. Pellett, Ph.D., a professor of immunology and microbiology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, the meeting “provides a first look at cutting-edge research and potential treatments for viruses that affect a huge percentage of the world’s population. Communication that happens at this meeting has proven to be of extraordinary value in developing relationships and collaborations that have amplified research progress internationally.”

Another hallmark of herpesviruses is their vast distribution throughout all human populations.

The conference here is sponsored, in part, by Experience Grand Rapids and a variety of research institutes, universities, foundations and pharmaceutical companies including: Genentech, The National Shingles Foundation, Novartis, Merck, Microbiotix Inc., Promega, The Research Foundation for Microbial Diseases of Osaka University, Sanofi Pasteur, Van Andel Institute Graduate School, Van Andel Research Institute and Wayne State University.

The support of these organizations helps keep the meeting affordable for attendees, many of whom are graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, Triezenberg said.

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