Meet the Whelan Lab
Sean P. J. Whelan, Ph.D., is the Chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and the Marvin A. Brennecke Distinguished Professor, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Whelan received his B.Sc. degree in Microbiology and Biochemistry, from the University of Birmingham, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Virology from the University of Reading. Following post-doctoral training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham he started his own laboratory at Harvard Medical School and in 2011 was promoted to the rank of Professor. Whelan is an internationally renowned expert on non-segmented negative-sense RNA viruses. He joined Washington University in Saint Louis in 2020 in his current role as Chair. He is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology, an Editor of Fields Virology, Virology, PLoS Pathogens and serves on the editorial board of Journal of Virology. He pioneered reverse genetic approaches to manipulate the genome of vesicular stomatitis virus - this work led to the field domesticating the virus as a vaccine vector and oncolytic agent and one licensed human vaccine against Ebola has been developed using this technology. Whelan’s group used this genetic system to develop biosafety level 2 reporter viruses against 80 viral pathogens including several biosafety level 3 and 4 emerging viruses. Using those viruses, his laboratory identified the cellular receptors for Ebola, Lassa, and Lujo viruses and for the endogenous human retrovirus, HERV-K. Whelan’s group also pioneered structural studies of the replication machinery of non-segmented negative-strand RNA viruses using negative-stain electron microscopy and electron cyro microsopy – where he solved the atomic structures of vesicular stomatitis virus and rabies virus polymerases. Most recently Whelan’s group has built upon the VSV platform approach developing a BSL2 reporter of SARS-CoV-2 entry and neutralization by antibodies and receptors. Whelan’s group has advanced this VSV-SARS-CoV-2 vector as a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 demonstrating efficacy in animal models of disease.
Brynn grew up in Arkansas and remained there for her undergraduate education in Spanish and Biology at Ouachita Baptist University and graduate education in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Arkansas. After completing her master’s degree, she worked in Colin Parrish’s lab at Cornell University for four years as a research technician. There she contributed to several projects on influenza-host interactions and parvovirus evolution and learned many techniques, including protein production, immunohistochemistry, and stable cell line development. In August 2020, Brynn moved to St. Louis and began working as a lab manager in the Whelan lab. In addition to her managerial duties, she is interested in viral replication and has worked to optimize VSV rescue protocols and determine the effect of polymerase mutations on VSV replication fidelity. Outside of the lab, Brynn enjoys exploring the restaurants, bars, parks, and museums of her new city and spending time with friends and her dog, Boogie.
Originally from Brazil, Marjorie is a Biologist with a master’s in Biochemistry and Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from University of São Paulo. During her Ph.D., Marjorie studied how the accessory proteins of bunyaviruses are associated with viral replication and pathogenesis. Since joining the Whelan lab in 2020, she is working on localizing specific brain regions responsible for promoting viral immunity and viral infection-induced re-programing of neuronal circuits. Also, she’s been working to identify novel SARS-CoV-2 host-entry factors. Marjorie is a sports enthusiast outside the lab, enjoys playing soccer, biking and Crossfit. During the warmer weather, you can easily find her exploring outdoors with her dog.
Originally from China, Zhuoming earned his Ph.D in March 2015 under the mentorship of Dr. Yasushi Kawaguchi at The University of Tokyo, where he studied molecular mechanisms of replication of Herpes Simplex Virus 1. After completing his Ph.D, Zhuoming stayed on at the same lab as a postdoc to complete his research on herpes. In September 2015, Zhuoming joined Dr. Sean Whelan's lab to study host factors required for alphavirus viral entry as well as SARS-CoV-2 S mutational antigenic profiling and evolution to monoclonal and polyclonal antibody by using VSV-Chimera virus. Outside lab, Zhuoming likes reading and travelling, as well as sports.
Paul grew up in Ringwood, NJ and graduated from Rowan University in 2017 with BS degrees in Biological Science and Biochemistry. During his undergraduate studies, Paul developed an interest in host-pathogen interactions. To explore his interests, he joined the lab of Dr. Claude Krummenacher as a research assistant, where he studied host and viral proteins involved in herpes simplex virus type 1 entry. Paul worked in Dr. Don Coen's lab as a Harvard Amgen Scholar during the summer of 2016, where he helped develop a high-throughput screening assay to identify small molecule inhibitors of human cytomegalovirus nuclear egress. Paul enrolled in the PhD Program in Virology at Harvard University in 2017 and joined Dr. Sean Whelan's lab shortly after; the lab has since relocated to the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where Paul is a Visiting Researcher. In 2021, Paul was awarded an NIH F31 predoctoral research fellowship. Paul's research is centered around the development of novel replication-competent vesicular stomatitis viruses, and he has utilized these tools to study viral entry mechanisms, to assess neutralization by antibodies and soluble receptors, to measure inhibition by chemical compounds, and to serve as vaccine candidates. Paul is interested in viral entry mechanisms, vaccine development, and structural biology. In his spare time, Paul enjoys hiking, fishing, playing basketball, and wrestling with his black lab puppy.
Originally from Wilton, Connecticut, Michael received his undergraduate B.A. in Biology from the University of Chicago in 2013. During that time, he worked in the lab of Dr. Glenn Randall, first studying lipid-protein interactions in Hepatitis C Virus, then writing an undergraduate thesis on membrane-trafficking pathways during HCV secretion. After graduating, Michael went to work as a technician in the lab of Dr. Sara Cherry, where his primary focus was studying antiviral translational shutdown pathways during Rift Valley Fever Virus infection. He was accepted into Harvard's Virology Program in 2015, joined the Whelan lab in 2016, and moved with them to WashU in 2020. Michael is generally interested in how viruses co-opt and subvert cellular defenses against infection, and specifically study the role of mRNA methylation in the innate immune response to vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV). Outside of lab, Michael enjoy trying new restaurants, bell ringing, going to the orchestra, and playing board games over a drink.
Cassandra Thompson is a WashU PhD candidate in Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, who is originally from Northern California. Cassandra got her B.Sc. in Biomedical Sciences and Microbiology from Colorado State University in 2016 and then worked as a Research Associate at the Gladstone Center for Cell Circuitry, where she studied and developed transmissible therapeutics for HIV. Cassandra joined the Whelan Lab in the summer of 2020 and studies the mechanisms of pathogenic and nonpathogenic New World Arenavirus entry, focusing on the mechanisms of viral zoonosis. Outside of the lab she is an avid home brewer, baker, and horse, dog, and carnivorous-plant mom.