Moller-Tank successfully defends PhD thesis


Sven Moller-Tank successfully defended his PhD thesis, "The Role of TIM-1 in Enveloped Virus Entry," on Friday, July 11, 2014.  Sven is pictured here with his mentor, Wendy Maury, PhD.

Ebola viruses, and other members of the family filoviridae, are enveloped, negative sense, RNA viruses that can cause hemorrhagic fever, resulting in both aberrant blood clotting and bleeding. Currently, there are no antivirals or approved vaccines available that target or protect from Ebola virus infection. However, T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain-1 (TIM-1) has been identified as a receptor for entry of Ebola viruses into cells and could be a potential target for antivirals.

My studies were initially focused on characterizing the components of TIM-1 that interact with the virus. Through introduction of mutations into TIM-1, we determined that TIM-1 enhances virus entry by binding a lipid molecule present in the membrane surrounding the virus particle, the viral envelope. Further, we found this broad interaction allows TIM-1 to enhance infection by a wide range of enveloped viruses, including alphaviruses and a baculovirus.


I was born in Auckland, New Zealand to a German, Holger, and a Kiwi, Beth. I lived there with my parents and younger sister, Anneke, for most of my childhood. On my eleventh birthday, my family and I moved for my dad’s job to Zionsville, a town outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. After graduating high school in 2006, I attended Purdue University to study biology. It wasn’t until I saw a research seminar presented by Dr. David Sanders on the use of the Ebola glycoprotein for gene therapy vectors that I became determined to study viruses. I worked in his lab for a couple of years before graduating in 2009 with a degree in Cell Molecular and Developmental Biology.

In 2009, I entered the Microbiology PhD program at The University of Iowa and in 2010 joined the lab of Dr. Wendy Maury. My project was a follow up to the work of Andrew Kondratowicz, who had, at the time, recently identified TIM-1 as a receptor for Ebola virus. My studies led to two first author publications that characterized TIM-1 as a broad receptor for enveloped viruses. I have also submitted a review summarizing the work that our lab and several other labs have done on TIM-1 and other similar receptors that enhance virus entry through binding of phosphatidylserine. I have also had the opportunity to frequent and present at the annual American Society for Virology meetings. Many of these trips were generously funded by the Levitt Center.

When I am not at lab, I enjoy several hobbies with my girlfriend, Cheryl: cooking, watching scripted television and movies, and playing video games. I am also a huge fan of stand up comedy, podcasts, and music, much of which I enjoyed during work hours, despite how difficult it made communication with me.

After graduation, I will be joining the lab of Aravind Asokan at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His lab studies both the basic biology of adeno-associated viruses and their use as gene-delivery vectors for gene therapy.