Scientific Center of Excellence in Viral Immunology and Development of Vaccines


Full title: Scientific Center of Excellence in Viral Immunology and Development of Vaccines

Coordinator of Center’s activities: Professor Stipan Jonjić, Head of the Department for Histology and Embryology and Center for Proteomics of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Rijeka


Brief description:

Following domestic and international selection and evaluation procedure, on 10th of November 2014 the assembly of the National Committee for Science, High Education and Technological Development of the Republic of Croatia proclaimed the founding of the Scientific Center of Excellence in Viral Immunology and Development of Vaccines.

Activities of the Scientific Center of Excellence in Viral Immunology and Development of New Vaccines are conducted by distinguished scientists working in three internationally recognized institutions in the Republic of Croatia: Faculty of Medicine, University of Rijeka (MEDRI), Center for Research and Knowledge Transfer in Biotechnology, University of Zagreb (UNIZG Biotech) and University Hospital for Infectious Diseases “Dr. Fran Mihaljević” (UHID).

Mission and Vision: More than virus immunology

We have envisioned the Center of Excellence as a program project grant with the focus on establishing a base for further development of viral immunology and vaccinology in Croatia. The project studies the interplay between viruses and the immune system as well as the design of effective vaccines and vectors for the prevention and treatment of emerging infectious diseases and cancer. To facilitate efficient execution of the work plan, all planned scientific activities have been divided into seven work packages which unify the scientific mission of this center, all with clear aims and experimental plans.

The first two work packages (WPs) are dealing with novel immunoregulatory viral genes and their role in viral pathogenesis and immunosurveillance. We believe that the results of these studies will be essential for the research described in other WPs of this project. As described in WP3, the core of this proposal is the study of CMV-based vaccines vectors for cancer and for several human pathogens.

This proof of concept studies are in line with research that aims at creating Mumps virus mutants that can serve as a vaccine and / or as a vector for vaccines. Since these two WPs include human viruses, some of which are not permissive for infection of mice, a significant portion of the proposed research is carried out on humanized mice, which allows testing of the human immune response to microbial and tumor antigens.

The next two WPs are devoted to the study of human immune responses to two important pathogens (hantavirus and HCV) and viral mechanisms that regulate the immune response. The emphasis is given on the characterization of memory NK-cell response in hantavirus-infected human subjects, which is the subject of intense research in the field. Since our ultimate goal is the transfer of acquired knowledge to the clinic, in the last WP we conduct a set of activities aimed at improving the production and quality of live virus vaccines and vectors, in accordance with the standards declared by regulatory agencies.

Finally, in addition to the proposed research, an essential role in this project is given to two horizontal groups of activities: 1) training of young researchers and networking with other excellent institutions in the European Research Area and 2) dissemination and exploitation of the research results generated by the Center.