CEIRS Training Program Highlight: Denise Kuok

Denise in the laboratory at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Denise Kuok is a PhD candidate in Dr. Michael Chan’s laboratory at the University of Hong Kong. Dr. Chan is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Public Health Laboratory Sciences and part of the St. Jude Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance (SJCEIRS). His research is focused on virus-host interactions of influenza virus as well as MERS and SARS coronaviruses. Denise focuses more specifically on the therapeutic treatment of H5N1 influenza viral infection. The DPCC Communications team interviewed Denise Kuok on her innovative approach to the CEIRS Training Program.  

Research Background 

In Dr. Michael Chan’s laboratory, Denise investigates therapeutic treatments for edema in the lungs caused by H5N1 influenza infection. Her research uncovered that mesenchymal stem cells help to reduce fluid buildup in H5N1 infected mice. She is also utilizing in vitro and in vivo systems to test how different viruses affect both the rate of edema formation and rate of fluid clearance. Denise is currently working on a publication detailing these findings on controlling long-term injury to the respiratory system. 

CEIRS Training Program 

The CEIRS Training Program is an ongoing NIAID-funded initiative that supports graduate and postdoctoral training experiences in CEIRS laboratories. The program provides support for trainees conducting collaborative work in a CEIRS laboratory different from their own using a specific technique or research tool required for their project not available at their institution. Trainees are placed in an immersive rotation in another research setting for two weeks. Both pre- and post-doctoral students have the opportunity to acquire new techniques and research experience, strengthen collaborations, increase research capacity, and expand the infrastructure of the CEIRS Network.  

Denise Kuok traveled to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, part of the Johns Hopkins Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance (JHCEIRS), to learn new techniques with the mouse model. After hearing her presentation as a part of the CEIRS Lecture Series, Denise’s supervisor at the University of Hong Kong suggested Dr. Sabra Klein’s laboratory for their research on pulmonary function after influenza virus infection in mice. While in Dr. Klein’s laboratory, Denise was able to learn advanced measurements of lung function, including oxygen levels, capacity, volume, and resistance. She felt that these skills and parameter analyses would be advantageous to her future research.  

Future Pathways 

In addition to the benchwork, Denise was able to attend lab meetings where she could listen to others present their ongoing work and present her own. “I presented my research in a joint lab meeting and got feedback on my projects as well; so, as a young researcher I got to expose my ideas and learn from senior scientists,” she said. Other researchers proposed that the mice’s gender may also affect the stem cells’ modulation of lung recovery after influenza infection.  

“Maybe a stem cell to female will have a different affect than male mice, due to the hormones or other mechanisms. That brought more ideas to my future research and it was very helpful,” said Denise.  

Denise believes this collaboration is one of the best components of the training program. “It is not just the knowledge exchange or the skills I’ve learned, but more the collaboration and the future connection that we have so we can share the ideas together and brainstorm more,” she said. While at Johns Hopkins, Denise was also able to sit with scientists outside of the Klein laboratory to discuss not only her research, but suggestions for her future career. Denise hopes to continue investigating how to target other arms of the host and immune response, potentially post-genetic variations that predispose susceptibility, for the treatment of influenza and respiratory viruses. Her advice to future trainees in the program is to not be shy to ask questions or discuss your own research. Denise felt that program not only benefited her research but built her confidence as well.  

Outside of the Lab 

While in Hong Kong, Denise enjoys the diverse food and shopping that the city has to offer. On the weekends, she also enjoys escaping the city to hike and relax among nature on the nearby islands. In her short time in Baltimore, Denise appreciated the friendliness of the locals and the scenery at the waterfront. She also made the trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the White House and various museums.

To read more on the cross-Center work spurred by the training exchange and other ongoing collaborations, check out the publications listed below. 

Hui, K. et al. Tropism and innate host responses of influenza A/H5N6 virus: an analysis of ex-vivo and in-vitro cultures of the human respiratory tract. European Respiratory Journal (2017).

Chan, M, et al. Human mesenchymal stromal cells reduce influenza A H5N1–associated acute lung injury in vitro and in vivo. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016).

Hui, K, et al. Modulation of sterol biosynthesis regulates viral replication and cytokine production in influenza A virus infected human alveolar epithelial cells. Antiviral Research (2015).

Denise (third from left) in front of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.