Dr. Kevin Tsai received his doctoral training from the University of Pennsylvania and the Wistar Institue in Philadelphia, PA, USA. His thesis explored how the lymphoma-associated Epstein-Barr virus packages the viral protein BNRF1 inside viral particles to enhance viral infection. It was found that BNRF1 regulated host epigenetic modifications on viral DNA to prevent the host cell from blocking viral gene expression.
Afterwards, Dr. Tsai moved to Duke University, USA, for his postdoctoral training, where he studied how RNA modifications regulate viral RNA. He has found that RNA modifications, such as methylations and acetylations, are enriched in a wide variety of viruses, including SV40, Influenza A virus and Human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1), where they enhance the expression of viral genes through these RNAs.
Building on prior work, the Tsai lab aims to further elucidate the mechanisms of how RNA modifications enhance viral gene expression. Interestingly, RNA modifications have been utilized to prevent our immune system from attacking the mRNA vaccines that are critical for the control of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the findings that RNA modifications enhance the replication of such a wide variety of viruses suggest this mechanism as an emerging new avenue for the development of broad spectrum antivirals. The Tsai lab aims to inform this development of antivirals, while helping with the future development of RNA therapeutics.
Dr. Tsai was appointed as an Assistant Research Fellow of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences in May, 2021.