Growing up in Shanghai, China, Mengxi Jiang attended Fudan University where she received her undergraduate degree in 2001. Later that year, she moved to the United States and began research in bacteriology at the University of Michigan. When she received her Ph.D., she took a different direction and accepted a postdoctoral position at University of Michigan in the area of virology. “While working toward my Ph.D., I became more interested in the interplay of the host and pathogen. This led me into the field of virology,” says Jiang.
In 2012, Jiang became a research investigator at the University of Michigan, where she worked two years on the host-pathogen interactions of a human DNA tumor virus, BK polyomavirus (BKPyV). Now, as assistant professor in the microbiology department at UAB, she continues to search for a better understanding of the BKPyV life cycle to aid in the design of novel, more efficient anti-viral strategies.
“BKPyV infection is ubiquitous in the human population and occurs during early childhood,” says Jiang. “Primary infection with BKPyV is followed by dissemination to the kidney and urinary tract, in particular to kidney tubule epithelial cells and urinary tract epithelial cells, where the virus establishes a lifelong persistent infection. This infection remains asymptomatic in immunocompetent individuals, but under conditions of immunosuppression, BKPyV can undergo reactivation resulting in viral shedding in the urine and may eventually lead to severe diseases such as polyomavirus-associated nephropathy (PVAN) in renal transplant patients and hemorrhagic cystitis in bone marrow transplant recipients.”
Jiang says that no specific antiviral drugs for BKPyV infection are currently available, although the incidence of BKPyVrelated disease has greatly increased in the last few years. The immune components that are involved in controlling BKV persistence and reactivation are not well defined. As a new assistant professor, Jiang is looking to fill several positions in her lab. She enjoys sharing her excitement for research with students just entering the field. “It is important for students to learn how to do science, to think critically, and to establish their independence,” says Jiang.