Names in the News


Sean Wiltshire presents at HGEN Research Day

by Anne-Marie Cenaiko


When Sean Wiltshire started working in Dr. Silvia Vidal’s lab, he was torn between his desire to pursue the sciences and the arts. His background was in microbiology and immunology, and he took a double major in East Asian studies in order to study history and to learn a new language. After completing his undergraduate degree, he wanted a job to gain plane fair to go to China for some soul-searching about his next career move.  Instead, his work in Dr. Vidal’s lab made him realize he was in the right place.

“When I understood more about what genetics was I really liked it. Genetics really is a marriage between history and science. It’s heredity. Genetics is cool because it’s both wet lab work and bioinformatics work, and you bridge a bunch of fields and synthesize. It’s interesting work.”

Now, Sean is studying the Coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3) infection, which is the most common cause of viral myocarditis. Almost everyone gets infected with this virus or one of its close relatives, Wiltshire explained, but very few people have devastating symptoms, including inflammation and necrosis of the heart, leading to sudden and unexpected death. Multiple lines of evidence suggest that those who react severely to the virus are those who have a specific genetic predisposition. Using mice as models, he’s researching the Viral Myocarditis Susceptibility 1 (Vms1) locus on chromosome-3, which is what accounts for severe reactions to the CVB3 infection. He’s hoping to identify the specific genetic variants that cause susceptibility to this virus. His work could translate to help doctors and develop prevention strategies.

“As sequencing data and genetic information become more accessible to people and their doctors, it’s going to be very important to find out what common or rare variants cause susceptibility to this virus,” said Sean. “They could potentially develop a vaccine, monitor people with variants when they get sick, or even identify at-risk populations. This way we can prepare ahead of time, otherwise it’s just palliative care.”

Sean credits his HGEN Research Day win in part to his supervisor, Dr. Vidal. “Silvia is a great supervisor. Winning the first prize at the presentation was in a big part due to Silvia’s active encouragement of good, clear, understandable presentation. That’s a quality that a good supervisor will foster.”

Sean’s research has been published in a number of publications, including Genes and Immunity and The Journal of Immunology. He will be graduating soon, and hopes to pursue a post-doc in the U.S. “I’ll learn from someone else in a different field probably.”

Judge Ken Dewar with student talk winners: Justine Garner (3rd place), Woranontee Weraarpachai (2nd place) and Sean Wiltshire (1st place).

The Department’s Human Genetics Graduate Student Research Day was held on June 2, 2011, with many of our students presenting their work, and featuring keynote speaker Dr. Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D. – Director, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH.

Three students were awarded prizes for presenting talks, and four students were awarded for poster presentations. The first prize winner for presenting a talk was Sean Wiltshire, a student in Dr. Silvia Vidal’s lab, and winner of a $300 prize.  

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