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Carol Shoshkes Reiss MS ’73, a biology professor at New York University, has spent her career investigating the evolutionary arms race between viruses and the immune system. Now, she hopes that her latest experiment will reveal a cure for viral encephalitis, an infection of the brain caused by foreign invaders, including the West Nile virus. Although viral encephalitis is rare, severe cases can result in long-term cognitive problems or even death.
Viruses, slivers of parasitic DNA or RNA that hijack a host’s cell machinery to produce their offspring, are a huge success from an evolutionary point of view: They can quickly mutate, replicate, and spread to a variety of hosts. Reiss’s laboratory uses mice to study how viruses function in the brain; lately, they have explored the role individual proteins play in infection.
These days, Reiss spends about 12 hours a day in her office, which is decorated with virology textbooks and posters of cellular pathways, advising the gloved graduate students in the lab outside her door, thinking about experiments, and editing the journal Viral Immunology.