Meet Rommel Gestuveo, Newton Fund grant awardee.

Research topic: Interactions of Zika virus (ZIKV) with mosquito vector cells: investigating viral persistence and immune evasion

Host institution / UK university: University of Glasgow

Home institution: University of the Philippines Visayas

Degree programme: PhD in Virology

Describe your PhD research in layman’s terms.

My research looks into how Zika virus interacts with its host cells. By developing mosquito cell lines that produce Zika virus proteins, I can identify cellular proteins that regulate virus replication. These proteins could help determine how the virus evades immune responses and how it utilises its host cellular machinery that causes infection.

What is the relevance of your study to the economic development, welfare and poverty issues in the Philippines?

It has recently been reported that Zika virus infection in pregnant women may lead to babies with birth defects. Other than that, like other viruses transmitted by mosquitoes, it causes bouts of fever that dampen an individual’s productivity. The absence of disease has been linked to more productivity and economic gain, studying Zika and other viruses relevant to the Philippines will help achieve a healthier future leading to more productive Filipinos. In addition, studying how Zika virus replicates within mosquito cells may hold answers to help prevent its transmission to people.

How do you envision your UK education can contribute to your future career as a researcher?

As a young researcher and member of the academe, developing my skills in studying viruses will be of great value to my career as a researcher and help me in my profession as an educator. This experience can be a platform for me in studying other viruses that are medically important in the Philippines. This could also lead to local efforts in identifying novel means of diagnostics and therapeutics for viruses in the country. A continued collaboration with the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research after completing my degree is one of my aims because this will further develop how viruses are studied in our country. In the future, I plan to apply for grants to study diseases caused by other viruses.

How has the commitment of the UK in science and technology influence your decision in choosing the Newton Fund?

Studying in the UK, I have observed that support in research and development in science and technology does not end with grants and financial aid but extends to the researchers and their career. I bear witness to UK’s commitment to not only promote its technical capacity but also develop linkages between different countries and various disciplines. I have also observed that universities take pride in public engagement. This means that researches do not end after publication but should be conveyed by scientists and researchers to the general public in a manner that not only educates them but also makes them involved in the science.