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.

Sean Whelan, PhD

Marvin A. Brennecke Distinguished Professor and

Chairman of Molecular Microbiology

Deborah Carvalho dos Anjos

Visiting Researcher

Deborah is a Ph.D. student in Parasite-Host Relationship Biology in Brazil, where she is from, originally. She got her bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from Federal University of Goiás, then she started her master's at the same University, studying aspects of human Adenovirus infection in immunocompromised patients submitted to stem-cell transplantation. Deborah joined the Whelan lab in 2022 to work with a vaccine platform using VSV encoding spike protein from ancestral Coronavirus to generate cross-reactive responses against Sarbecoviruses and Merbecoviruses as part of her doctoral thesis. Outside the lab, Deborah enjoys cooking and exploring Saint Louis.

Marjorie Cornejo Pontelli

Postdoc Research Associate

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.

Yuhao Li

Senior Scientist

Yuhao is originally from China where he did his Ph.D. at the South China Agriculture University in Guangzhou, under the supervision of Dr. Ming Liao. Previously, Yuhao worked as a staff scientist for Dr. Megan Tierney Baldridge and Dr. Scott Handley at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Yuhao studied the intestinal microbiome and immune responsiveness to viral infections or vaccination. Yuhao joined Dr. Sean Whelan's lab in July 2022, where he uses vesicular-stomatitis virus (VSV) to create vaccine platforms encoding spike or receptor-binding domain (RBD) antigens and dominant conserved T cell epitopes to generate cross-reactive responses against Sarbecoviruses (SRBV) and Merbecoviruses (MRBV) with pandemic potential. Outside the lab, Yuhao enjoys hiking, camping, and cooking.

Zhuoming Liu

Research Instructor

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 Rothlauf

Visiting Researcher

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.

Casey Thompson

Graduate Student

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.