Oonagh Bodin - Interview with Dr Karla Helbig, Virology

Posted by on 9 August 2016 | Comments

Dr Karla Helbig is a recently new laboratory head at La Trobe University, Bundoora and has established a new virology lab in the microbiology department

Can you tell us a little about your PhD and what you’ve done since then?

I studied my PhD in the department of Pathology, School of Medicine at the University of Adelaide; studying the role of various immune genes in the generation of chronic Q Fever syndrome following an acute Q fever infection. My first Post doc position was at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, also in Adelaide, to begin work with viral infections and Hepatitis C Virus (Just a small side step!!!), and it was here that I received my first NHMRC junior fellowship to look at the role of host anti-viral proteins against HCV. I stayed In this laboratory for my first 10 years post PhD and helped the lab to move across to the Research Centre for Infectious Diseases at The University of Adelaide, where I formed my own small group within this lab looking at the early innate host response to viral infections. In 2015 I moved to La Trobe University to begin my own laboratory within the discipline of Microbiology!

What is your current area of focus/research?

My Laboratory studies the role of the early innate host response to viral infection, with a particular focus on host interferon stimulated anti-viral genes. We study these responses in both human and non-mammalian viral infections with a goal to move towards better and more tailored anti-viral treatments for many acute, life threatening pathogenic viruses for which there are currently no treatment options. What drew you to this particular area of research/ how did you get to where you are today? My research involves a lot of signalling pathways, and very complicated viral and host protein interactions – I see this tangled web of host/pathogen communications as one big puzzle and I love a good puzzle! I also find viruses incredibly fascinating, they manage to cause such chaos and havoc, with such a small genome.

To date, what would you say are some of your biggest achievements in microbiology?

I consider many of my postgraduate students as some of my biggest achievements; it is always very rewarding to teach eager honours and PhD students, and mentor them to a stage where they are asking their own research questions, and designing their own experiments to answer them.

In a research context; every competitive research fellowship and grant is a big achievement, and a lot of my work today has stemmed from my very early work describing the novel host protein viperin, as an anti-viral protein against pathogenic viral infections for the first time. This work was the start of an explosion of viperin research in the literature, which is still going today.

What advice would you give any students or early career researches with a desire to become successful researchers?

I think it’s important to begin to build your CV from day 1, and to get yourself out there; meet people, discuss your research and present your data at every opportunity. Its also important to listen to other peoples research, even if you think its outside of your area – you never know what you might pick up, and all good research requires you to be able to ‘think outside of the box’ often.

Thanks Karla! You can find more information on Karla, including a list of publications HERE