Roberto Cattaneo, Ph.D., studies measles and other small enveloped RNA viruses with the primary goal of generating new knowledge. Viruses have evolved to rapidly spread through organisms. They cause disease by targeting sequentially specific cell types and proteins that control cell function.
Virologists learn from viruses' principles of molecular, cellular and organismal biology. This knowledge is used to prevent and treat disease. New frontiers of virology include the generation of virus-derived vectors to eliminate cancer cells and deliver therapeutic genes to specific cells and organs.
Dr. Cattaneo's team recently discovered why measles virus is extremely contagious: it uses a protein selectively expressed in the trachea to emerge from the host at a location facilitating aerosol droplet release through coughing and sneezing. Remarkably, nectin-4 is a marker for lung, breast and ovarian cancer, which has immediate consequences for ongoing measles-based cancer clinical trials.
The National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other national and international granting agencies fund Dr. Cattaneo's research.
- Virus tropism and pathogenesis. Dr. Cattaneo looks at which cellular proteins are used by measles and related viruses to take control of biological systems and cause disease
- Cell entry. A second area of focus involves how the measles virus enter cells and which proteins it selects as receptors
- Membrane fusion. The team studies how the virus orchestrates membrane fusion at the atomic level
- Lymphoma. Research also includes work on oncolysis with reprogrammed measles viruses that are targeted, armed and shielded for optimal efficacy
- Hepatitis vaccines. Divalent vaccines to protect hosts against the hepatitis B and the hepatitis C viruses, in addition to measles, are being developed.
Significance to patient care
The research of today is the clinical practice of tomorrow. Dr. Cattaneo's basic research into measles virus in the 1980s and 1990s has laid the foundations for the development of measles virus-based clinical trials of glioma, myeloma and ovarian cancer currently open at Mayo Clinic.
The recent discovery of nectin-4 as a receptor has triggered retrospective studies of the expression of this protein in clinical trial patients, and it promotes the development of new clinical trials of lung and breast cancer.
- Director, Virology and Gene Therapy track, Mayo Graduate School, 2004-present
- Chair, Education Committee (2007-2009); Chair, Infectious Diseases and Vaccines Committee (2009-2011); Member, Board of Directors (2010-present) — American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy
- START Career Development Award, Swiss National Science Foundation, 1991-1998