Featured Researcher — Amit Kapoor, PhD

Featured Researcher — Amit Kapoor, PhD 150 150 Katie Brind'Amour, PhD, MS, CHES

Amit Kapoor, PhD, joined Nationwide Children’s Hospital as a principal investigator in the Center for Vaccines and Immunity and The Ohio State University as an associate professor of Pediatrics in 2015.

Dr. Kapoor’s lab is working to understand the immunopathogenesis of several viral pathogens that infect humans and animals. His lab is developing new animal models to study viruses and define the immunity needed to prevent infections.

In his prior work as an assistant professor at Columbia University, Dr. Kapoor primarily focused on discovering new and emerging viruses.

In recent publications in Nature Communications and PLOS Pathogens, Dr. Kapoor and colleagues examined vaccine efficacy in rats infected with rodent hepacivirus (RHV), the rodent homolog of hepatitis C (HCV) that Dr. Kapoor discovered. The research suggests an adenovirus vector vaccine may offer rats complete protection when challenged with RHV. More importantly, the rodent model offers scientists a platform for comparing vaccine efficacy and correlates of infection and protection, which could help direct vaccine research efforts for HCV in humans. Other recent research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the Journal of Virology, examined alternative vaccine candidates for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection, using altered versions of the measles virus and vesicular stomatitis, respectively. In both cases, preliminary animal studies indicated the recombinant virus-based vaccines were safe and highly efficacious after a single shot.

Dr. Kapoor believes that the most durable vaccinations will be those that produce strong T-cell responses. To better apply his theories to vaccine development efforts, his lab is working to characterize the impact of different types of vaccines on T cells and produce innovative vaccines for historically challenging viruses, such as HCV.

Read on to learn more about Dr. Kapoor and his work.

How did you decide to pursue a career in your field?

I was doing a lot of virus discovery and trying to identify new viruses, but ultimately the goal of virus research is to prevent viral infections. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) caught my eye. Despite decades of research on these viruses, we really don’t know what kind of immunity you need to protect against those infections. And once they infect you, they remain with you.

One of the main reasons we don’t have vaccines for these viruses is that we didn’t have a good animal model for the viruses. Understanding what sort of immune response is required to prevent infection requires  informative animal models. Instead, all we have for many viruses are immunocompromised animal models that aren’t good platforms for studying likely responses in humans in terms of T cells, B cells or antigens to induce immunity.

In order for a virus to be a successful pathogen in humans, it needs to be fine-tuned for humans. If you take a human virus and infect animals, it won’t work as well, because it evolved with humans, not those animals.

When we found a hepatitis C-like virus in rats, I thought it was a good opportunity to make progress on one of these really challenging viruses with no vaccine. I started developing this animal model so we could better understand how HCV and vaccines might work in humans by understanding their correlates better in rats.

The main question I had was how to find out more about the immunity of the T cell in this disease now that we have these models available. That’s how I started getting deeper into defining the role of the T cell and finding better vaccines to prevent infections.

Why did you decide to pursue your work at Nationwide Children’s?

Honestly, I initially wanted to come because of Chris Walker, PhD, the director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunity. And when I visited, I saw what a good environment it was.

After being in New York, I was looking for a place where I could live comfortably with my family that also had a really good team of virologists. I also knew the institute has a very good Animal Research Core, and felt that with the direction my work was heading, it would be a good place for me.

And to top it all off, if in the future I am able to translate my work into the clinic, I have access to clinicians and clinical samples here, so Nationwide Children’s offered great diversity — the total package.

Fun Facts About Dr. Kapoor

What historial figure would you most like to meet?

I’m really impressed by Charles Darwin — the way he approached thinking about things and the way he used his powers of reason and observation. Darwin is someone I want to learn from. His theories are still right in every possible way.

What’s your favorite place, and why?

I lived in San Francisco for eight years and I’ve never found a place more perfect — you don’t need air conditioning or a heater!

What do you usually eat for breakfast?

Eggs. And something sweet. And coffee.

What would be your dream job if you could do anything (that wasn’t working in research)?

I love lab research. I’m so happy with my work, the only way I’d think about doing something else is if I couldswitch to something where I just need to think, read and develop new hypotheses.

What’s your favorite food?

I love the goat curry I make. It’s wonderful.

Favorite band/genre/artist?

I like Eric Clapton a lot. And my Indian singers, like Kishore Kumar.

Favorite way to relax?

Either jogging or hiking. Getting really tired — to the extent you can’t even walk because your legs start to give out — that’s the best way of relaxing.

How does your research serve our patients and our community?

Ultimately, improving vaccines is the main point of all of my efforts.

Right now, everyone is interested in mRNA-based vaccines, whereas before, the focus was on live-attenuated vaccines. But at the end of the day, it’s really about how good the immunity is and improving the means at our disposal to prevent infections. That’s what all we do is focused on: identifying what kind of response you need to prevent infection so that we can improve vaccines.

What’s next? 

I really want to understand the best way to generate broad, effective and long-lasting immunity to prevent viral infections. That’s the overall goal, so I’m breaking it down into steps. I want to find and characterize T cell responses and find out for which viruses our T cells alone do or do not provide sufficient immune responses. Then I want to use that information to improve the immunity created by vaccines. For that, you need good animal models. I also want to keep working on virus discovery and actually recently published a paper describing a new virus. The good thing is that I have funding to be able to go in both of these directions!

I’ve also been working on a new way to develop attenuated virus vaccines, since they generate immunity that is long-lasting. For example, the immunity generated by the attenuated vaccines for polio and yellow fever lasts decades. Understanding the difference between how attenuated virus vaccines and mRNA vaccines work to prompt immunity is the key to having very successful vaccines.

To that end, I’ve already submitted a new technique to develop live virus vaccines to the Office of Technology Commercialization — it’s a joint invention based on an animal model that I’ve worked on with my colleague, Peter Simmonds, PhD, at the University of Oxford. For HCV and HIV, no one has really thought of developing live-attenuated vaccines, but we’ve shown that’s more than just an interesting concept. We recently applied for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant with our data showing that by mutating a hepatitis C-like virus found in rats, you can design an effective live-virus vaccine for them.

About the author

Katherine (Katie) Brind’Amour is a freelance medical and health science writer based in Pennsylvania. She has written about nearly every therapeutic area for patients, doctors and the general public. Dr. Brind’Amour specializes in health literacy and patient education. She completed her BS and MS degrees in Biology at Arizona State University and her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy at The Ohio State University. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist and is interested in health promotion via health programs and the communication of medical information.