News



PostDoc Vacancies, Aug 2016

Greg will soon be advertising for 2 Research Associates for posts funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellowship entitled “Characterisation of innate immune DNA sensing and viral evasion strategies”. Check back for more information or visit our recruitment page.





Publication in Nature, Aug 2016

Our collaborative work with Dr Leo James at the LMB in Cambridge has been accepted for publication in Nature:

David A. Jacques, William A. McEwan, Laura Hilditch, Amanda J. Price, Greg J. Towers, Leo C. James, HIV-1 uses dynamic capsid pores to import nucleotides and fuel encapsidated DNA synthesis, Nature. 2016 Aug 18;536(7616):349-53


We have discovered an entirely new feature of HIV: channels in the protein shell, or capsid, which surrounds the viral genome. These channels act like molecular hoovers sucking in the raw materials that fuel virus replication and importantly they are likely to be common to many viruses. Our work opens the possibility of a whole new range of broad-spectrum antiviral medication.

HIV remains a massive worldwide pandemic and whilst there have been giant advances in treatment there is still no vaccine and still no cure. The work of many scientists over many years has clearly shown that HIV has a remarkable ability to evade all aspects of our antiviral defences. How it does this has been unexplained. Many of our defences against viruses work by detecting or “sensing” incoming foreign genetic material. A long-standing question has been how is the virus able to copy its genome using raw materials from the cell without being detected. Our discovery provides the answer.

Taking an interdisciplinary approach, structural biologists from the LMB Cambridge and molecular virologists from UCL have discovered that the genome is copied inside the viral protein shell called the capsid. UCL author, Professor Greg Towers said, “We used to think that the capsid came apart as soon as the virus entered a cell. We now realise that the capsid protects the virus from our innate immune system and the channels we’ve discovered explain how the fuel for replication gets into the capsid to allow the genome to be made.

The impact of this new knowledge goes well beyond basic laboratory science. Some of the most important anti HIV drugs, the reverse transcriptase inhibitors (RTI), work by inhibiting the viral enzyme that copies the viral genome. It is now clear that these drugs must also transit the channel to enter the capsid and block the viral enzyme. Our work therefore offers two completely new opportunities for anti-viral drug development. Firstly, understanding how RTIs transit the channel opens enormous possibilities for improving their activity. Secondly, compounds that block the channel would be an entirely new class of anti-viral drugs. Senior author Dr Leo James said, “We have already designed a prototype inhibitor that directly targets the channel. We predict that this feature will be common to many viruses and will be an attractive target for a whole range of new antiviral drugs including new treatments for HIV and related viruses. Early studies are very promising.”

Lead author David Jacques said, “Our work really illustrates the value of taking a multidisciplinary approach to discovery research. It is the combination of our structural work with classical virology that enabled us to make, what I believe is a truly paradigm shifting discovery”.





Towers Lab Picnic, Aug 2016

The Towers Lab and Friends playing football at the picnic

The Towers lab and friends descended on Regents Park for a picnic.





BSc results, July 2016

Mei and Elysia

Our summer students Meiyin Lin (UCL) and Elysia Upton (Imperial) achieved firsts in their BSc degrees. Congratulations!





John Walter wins a Wellcome Large Arts Award to be resident artist in the Towers Lab, June 2016

John Walter
Exhibit of capsids made for 'Alien Sex Club', an installation about educating audiences about continuing rates of HIV transmission

John has secured a Wellcome Trust Large Arts Award for project "CAPSID"(number:203868/Z/16/Z). He will work with us to use the imagery our work produces to stimulate engagement with the public and to encourage consideration of the cultural issues that work on HIV and STDs raises from a new perspective.





We have new publications:

From our colaboration with Dr Julia García Prado, July 2016

Jimenez E, Ruiz A, Kløverpris HN, Rodriguez-Plata MT, Peña R, Blondeau C, Selwood DL, Izquierdo-Useros N, Moris A, Clotet B, Goulder P, Towers GJ, Prado JG. Non-human TRIM5 variants enhance recognition of HIV-1-infected cells by CD8+ T cells. J Virol. 2016 Jul 20. pii: JVI.00819-16. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 27440884

And from our collaboration with Prof David Selwood, Dec 2015

Warne J, Pryce G, Hill JM, Shi X, Lennerås F, Puentes F, Kip M, Hilditch L, Walker P, Simone MI, Chan AW, Towers GJ, Coker AR, Duchen MR, Szabadkai G, Baker D, Selwood DL. Selective Inhibition of the Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore Protects against Neurodegeneration in Experimental Multiple Sclerosis. J Biol Chem. 2016 Feb 26;291(9):4356-73. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M115.700385. Epub 2015 Dec 17. PMID: 26679998





Dr Chris van Tulleken films for an HIV BBC documentary. July 2016

Left: Dr Chris van Tulleken interviews the locals in Tempah. Right: The local market.


Left: Dr Chris van Tulleken films at the Macabuzela Clinic. Right: An interview with Prof Deenan Pillay

Chris has been filming “The Truth about HIV” for the BBC. It will follow the history of the fight against HIV and the progress that has been made with interviews with leading scientists and people whose lives it has affected.





We believe Brexit is bad for Science, June 2016

Towers Lab before and after Brexit

And migration is good for science.





Cold Spring Harbor Retrovirus Meeting, May 2016

Left: Chris Tie at the poster session. Right: Camille Lange defends her poster

The Towers lab attended CSH Retrovirus meeting and presented several posters of their recent work. Click for our CSH gallery.





The Towers Lab presented posters at Keystone, March 2016

Left and centre: Greg presents his poster at Keystone HIV Persistence: Pathogenesis and Eradication conference 2016. Right MariaT presents her poster at Keystone HIV Persistence: Pathogenesis and Eradication conference 2016

Greg, Maria T, Becky and Lucy attended the Keystone 'HIV Persistence: Pathogenesis and Eradication' Conference, Squaw Creek, California, USA. Greg and Maria T presented posters:

Characterisation of the role of CPSF6 and CypA in HIV-1 innate evasion in CD4+ T cells
Maria T. Rodriguez-Plata, Isobella Honeyborne, Rebecca P. Sumner, Greg J. Towers
Poster: X7 4005

Evasion of Innate Immune DNA sensing distinguishes pandemic HIV-1 M group from non-pandemic HIV-1 O group and HIV-1
Laura Hilditch, Jane Rasaiyaah, David Jacques, William McEwan, Katsia Bichel, Rebecca P. Sumner, Leo James, Greg J. Towers
Poster: X7 4021

Left: MariaT, Becky and Lucy at Lake Tahoe and Right: Becky and Lucy at Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park USA. Keystone HIV Persistence: Pathogenesis and Eradication conference 2016.

Following the conference, Maria T, Becky and Lucy took the opportunity to visit some stunning parts of the US.





Richard Miles has secured a fellowship to study in New York, Jan 2016

Richard will head to New York in the early summer having secured the Charlotte and Yule Bogue Research Fellowship to visit the lab of Professor Singer. He will spend 3 months using fluorescence in-situ hybridisation to study how HIV-1 gene expression is regulated in response to integration site targeting.





Dr Doug Fink secures funding for his PhD, January 2016

Dr Doug Fink

Congratulations to Doug who has secured a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Training Fellowship at UCL to fund his PhD on 'Primate lentiviral zoonosis and its control by intracellular innate immunity'.





 Towers Lab Christmas celebrations, December 2015

Left: Towers lab Christmas do at 'Watch Me'. Alun Vaughan-Jackson, Chris Monit, Chris Tie, Kat Sutherland, Lucy Thorne, Dami Collier, Teresa Rodriguez-Plata, isobel Honeyborne, Claire Kerridge, Carolina Ferreira, Jane Rasaiyaah, Calire Pardieu, Stephane Hue, Jane Turner, Greg Towers, Ecco Staller, Doug King, Doug Fink, Jade Donovan, Hataf Khan, Choon Ping Tan, David Stirling, Jo Rowley, Dejan Mesner, Clare Jolly, Laura Hilditch, Richard Miles, Petra Mlcochova. Right: Jane Turner, Doug Fink, Chris Van Tulleken and Lucy Thorne go for a Christmas swim at Kings Cross outdoor swimming pond.

The Towers lab celebrated Christmas with a curry at the Sri Lankan restaurant 'Watch Me' with friends. Earlier, some of the lab's braver members took on the 6 degree temperatures at the Kings Cross natural pond.





The Division Celebrates our Grant Winning P.I.s, September 2015

Left: Celebrations in the cloisters. Centre: Richard Miles, Becky Sumner, Isobel Honeyborne, Doug Fink, katsia Bichel, Yasu Takeuchi. Right: Celebrations in the quad.

Food and wine reception was held to congratulate 4 of the Division's P.I.s for securing Wellcome Turst grants. For more pictures see the Wellcome Trust Reception Gallery





Wellcome Trust Grants, July 2015

Greg has secured a further 5 years of funding from the Welcome Trust along with fellow Division of Infection and Immunity researchers Dr Clare Jolly, Dr Ravi Gupta and Dr Joe Grove. Many congratulations to all.

Greg: Senior Research Fellowship renewal

'Characterisation of innate immune DNA sensing and viral evasion strategies'

Clare: Wellcome Trust Investigator Award.

"Virus-Host interactions regulating HIV-1 replication in T cells"

Ravi: Wellcome Senior Research Fellowship in Clinical Science

'The genetics and biology of drug resistant HIV'

Joe: Sir Henry Dale Fellowship, jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society.

'Characterising viral antibody evasion by conformational masking'





¡nspire! came to the lab, June 2015

iDiscover children learn about spreading virus by sneezing (Left), tape worms (centre) and make their own virus (right)

¡nspire!'s iDiscover programme came to our lab to learn about viruses and allow the children to see science in a real world setting. They met with Professor Towers, PostDocs and PhD students and were able to use microscopes and make plasticine models of their own virus creations.





Cheltenham Science Fair, June 2015

Greg presented alongside Chris and Xand van Tulleken 'Viruses: Sneezes and Gore' at the Cheltenham Science fair on 6th June. Using real blood and guts they explained how viruses use the body to replicate and spread.





Dr Chris and Operation Ouch come to work

The Towers lab pulls the 'Operation Ouch face' in the lab with Dr Chris

Dr Chris Van Tulleken, also known as Dr Chris from the BAFTA winning children's programme 'Operation Ouch', was filmed in the lab for a episode following him working for his PhD. Children will be able to watch as he works in tissue culture, at his bench and with his boss, Greg.





Cold Spring Harbor, May 2015

Left: Greg in discussion with Jeremy Luben. Right: Becky in the poster session at CSH 2015

Laura Presented at the 2015 Retrovirus meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. Visit our CSH gallery





Embo Paper, May 2015

Left: Wing 3.3 celebrate Adam's paper in Embo. Right: Celebrating with cake and champagne.

Adam's paper "TRIM5a requires Ube2W to anchor Lys63-linked ubiquitin chains and restrict reverse transcription" was accepted by EMBO.





Sierra Leone, April 2015


Left: the feet of the lab workers. Right: sunset from the IHP camp

Jane T spent 5 weeks working in an Ebola diagnostic lab in Port Loko, Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries and Ebola struck hard. Schools shut, gatherings including markets were made illegal, construction and other projects were stopped in order to stem the spread of the virus. Many people lost their jobs. There is also a stigma associated with working with or surviving Ebola. It has been a crippling time.

I went with a team of 12 volunteers drawn from PHE, the NHS and various universities. We stayed in the IHP (International Humanitarian Partnership) camp. An impressive collection of tents with proper showers, laundry and kitchens, all managed by the Danish military. We were very well looked after.

The lab was open from 6am to 10pm. We processed samples from the ETC (Ebola Treatment Centre) in Port Loko, and the community, by Taqman RT-PCR to test for Ebola. We also tested for Malaria, a common infection in Sierra Leone and one that mimics Ebola's early symptoms but can be easily treated in the ETCs. The health system has struggled under the burden of Ebola so management of other health issues has fallen by the way allowing diseases such as Measles to make a comeback.

West Africa is finally emerging from this outbreak. In the week to the 13th May there were 7 new cases in Guinea and only 2 in Sierra Leone (WHO Ebola situation reports). The schools reopened in April and the lab teams there at the moment are training local people so they can continue to run PHE labs as diagnostic facilities.

It was a very positive and intense experience. I am grateful for the opportunity and I would redeploy in a heartbeat!





Keystone, April 2015


The Resort at Squaw Creek, for the Keystone meeting


Tan presented at the 2015 Innate Immunity and Determinants of microbial Pathogenesis conference run by Keystone Symposia at Squaw Creek, Olympic Valley, California USA.





Mucosal surfaces, reproductive health and HIV in prevention research Workshop, Jan 2015


Left: Julia Weinelt, Jane Rasaiyaah, Jonathan Sumner and Maria Teresa Rodriguez Plata on Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa, Right: the last Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre in Masiphumele

Jane and Teresa presented at the 2015 Mucosal surfaces, reproductive health and HIV in prevention research Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa.





Could I get Ebola? Jan 2015

Greg was interviewed by Dr Chris Van Tulleken in his documentary investigating the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the UK. How easy is it to catch? Could the virus improve it's methods of transmission? Watch 'Could I get Ebola?' on BBC iPlayer.





Evening Standard Feature, Oct 2015

Doctors Chris and Xand Van Tulleken were featured in the Evening Standard's Life & Style Magazine. To read about Chris' circuitous route into HIV research, click here.





Dr Chris Van Tulleken wins the Max Perutz Science Writing Award, Oct 2015


Chris brings Operation Ouch to the Max perutz science writing awards

Chris Van Tulleken celebrated winning the MRC’s Max Perutz Science Writing award sponsored by Metro at the Royal Institution in London this month. The award recognises and celebrates excellent written science communication by MRC PhD students who submit an 800 word article answering ‘Why does my research matter?’. Chris’s article entitled “Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novo” discusses the sometimes surprising pathway research takes to realise its goals.





Cold Spring Harbor, May 2014

Greg and Jane discuss the abstracts (left) and Greg and Felipe chat at the picnic (right)


Greg and Jane presented at the Retrovirus meeting in Cold Spring Harbor



Visit our Cold Spring Harbor gallery





CROI Presentation, March 2014


Greg presented at the 2014 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections at Croi. His talk entitled  'HIV-1 Evades Innate Immune Recognition Through Specific Co-Factor Recruitment' is available as a podcast.

Page last modified on 08 sep 16 15:02 by Jane Lorna Elizabeth Turner