Boston—Mohsan Saeed, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry & cell biology at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, has been selected as a recipient of the 2023 Smith Family Foundation: Odyssey Award. He is the first recipient from BU to get the Smith Odyssey Award.
As part of this honor, Saeed will receive $400,000 to study how mosquito-borne viruses (arboviruses) overcome the immune system of mosquitoes and establish persistent infection that is then transmitted to humans. He will collaborate on this project with Joseph Zaia, PhD, professor of biochemistry & cell biology, and Fabiana Feitosa-Suntheimer, PhD, a senior research scientist at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL).
Mosquito-borne arboviruses claim over one million human lives each year and are considered a global health priority due to frequent resurgence of activity and unprecedented geographical expansion in recent decades. In the absence of vaccines and targeted treatments, the design of strategies to control arboviruses at the mosquito level is imperative.
According to Saeed, his project is based on the premise that an in-depth understanding of mechanisms by which arboviruses establish lifelong infection in mosquitoes can inspire the design of powerful approaches to reduce viral transmission to humans. He will use an advanced technique, which he recently developed, to investigate the molecular details as to how arboviruses disarm mosquitoes’ antiviral defense systems and establish persistent infection.
“These studies will open up new lines of investigation into viral persistence and mosquito biology and facilitate the design of transgenic mosquitoes unable to harbor and transmit infections. It will also accelerate a discovery pipeline that can then be extended to other insect-borne pathogens such as plasmodium and borrelia,” said Saeed, who also is an investigator at the NEIDL.
Saeed received his MPhil in microbiology from Quaid-e-Azam University, Pakistan, where he studied the molecular epidemiology of polio-like viruses in patients suffering from paralysis. He then joined the University of Tokyo, receiving his PhD in Pathology, Immunology and Microbiology. During his doctoral studies, he developed novel cell culture systems for the study of hepatitis C virus (HCV) and investigated various aspects of this virus in diverse in vitro and in vivo settings.
Saeed then entered the laboratory of Nobel laureate Charles M. Rice, PhD, at The Rockefeller University, New York, for his postdoctoral training. Although his research in the Rice Lab mainly focused on HCV, he also gained expertise with a number of other positive-strand RNA viruses, including enteroviruses, flaviviruses and alphaviruses. In addition, Saeed developed a novel viral degradomics technique that allows an unbiased identification of cellular proteins cleaved during viral infections.
Saeed joined BU in 2019; his lab explores the role of viral and host proteases in disease mechanisms of positive-strand RNA viruses at the NEIDL. In early 2021 when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, his lab pivoted to SARS-CoV-2 research and has since made contributions to the molecular understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 establishes infection in various tissues and interacts with the human innate and adaptive immune systems.
The Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation created the award in 2017 to fuel creativity and innovation in junior investigators in the basic sciences. It supports the pursuit of high impact ideas to generate breakthroughs and drive new directions in biomedical research. The award funds high-risk, high-reward pilot projects solicited from the brightest junior faculty in the region.