Nathan Bartlett answers the Holy Grail


15 Mar 2016


Nathan Bartlett

What’s the issue your research is trying to solve?

We are trying to better understand how the common cold virus (rhinovirus) impacts on human health. All of us are susceptible to repeated infections with rhinoviruses throughout life. This virus plays a key role in the development of asthma and is a trigger for asthma attacks. Infection also makes other chronic respiratory diseases such as COPD and cystic fibrosis worse. There is no vaccine or anti-viral medication currently available to treat rhinovirus infections.

What have you discovered so far?

We have identified that the cells lining the airways (epithelium) responds aberrantly to rhinovirus infection in asthma. This involves over-production of molecules that promote disease (pro-inflammatory cytokines) and defects in responses that control infection. We have also discovered that a commonly used medication in asthma and COPD has the potential to make viral infections worse and contribute to progression of these chronic respiratory diseases.

What’s been your biggest hurdle?

Obtaining independent research funding as a mid-career researcher.

How far is your work from impacting patient care?

Better approaches for dealing with viral infection and chronic respiratory diseases are needed. As a result of my published research I am now working with companies to develop novel approaches for preventing virus induced exacerbations of chronic respiratory diseases. We hope to see these contribute to patient care in the next 5 – 10 years.  Regarding current treatment approaches for viral infection asthma and COPD a better understanding of how these modify anti-viral immunity has the potential to impact on patient care within the next 5 years.

If you could discover one thing in your research, what would it be? (e.g what’s your holy grail?)

A 100% effective (there are 150+ rhinovirus subtypes!) vaccine that could be administered in the first year of life and protect against the development of asthma.

If you could take two things to a desert island what would they be?

Fishing rod and a lifetime supply of cold beer

What are you reading at the moment?

Ken Follett, Edge of Eternity

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