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Virology and Gene Therapy Track

As outbreaks of potentially deadly diseases like influenza, Ebola or West Nile Virus continue to make headlines, so does the need to study the pathogens that cause them. Virologists play a key role in biological science, working to dissect and understand the nature of viruses and translate that knowledge into clinical practice. Discoveries over the past few decades show great promise in areas such as vaccine development, gene therapy and immunotherapy.

The Virology and Gene Therapy Track within the Ph.D. Program at Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Science offers a highly productive, interactive research environment for you to develop as an independent investigator. As a student, you’ll learn from and work alongside faculty members who have primary interests in virology, viral vectors and gene therapy. These areas overlap with the fields of biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, genetics, and immunology.

Current areas of research include:

  • Molecular biology of viruses
  • Mechanisms of virus-host interactions
  • Gene therapy
  • Oncolytic virotherapy
  • Cancer immunotherapy
  • Vaccine development
  • Tissue engineering using viruses
  • Genetic engineering using viruses


Students receive a comprehensive education in the biomedical sciences through a set of core courses. Specialized tutorials and journal clubs provide advanced training in the broad areas of molecular virology, host-cell interactions, tumor immunology, gene therapy of metabolic diseases, cancer gene therapy and vector development.

Year 1

Students are introduced to the laboratories participating in the program. You have the opportunity to visit these laboratories and select three in which you spend eight weeks participating in a research project. You'll select your thesis lab in the spring.

In conjunction with the laboratory rotations, you begin fulfilling the core curriculum requirements as well as the virology and gene therapy requirements. Most students complete the core courses by the end of their first year, in addition to taking the written qualifying exam.

Year 2

As a second-year student, most of your time is spent in the lab developing preliminary data toward your thesis project. By December of the second year, you draft your thesis proposal and take the oral qualifying examination on your proposal.

Second-year students also take advanced tutorials in virology and gene therapy as well as related areas.

Years 3-5+

The third and subsequent years are devoted primarily to pursuing thesis research with some additional courses.

Together with a thesis adviser, you select faculty members to participate in your thesis advisory committee. Thesis committee meetings assess the trajectory and evaluate the progress of your thesis research project on a regular basis. Upon completion, you write a thesis and present your findings in seminar form. This is followed by a thesis defense.

Recent thesis topics


  • “Use of Glucokinase Gene Delivery to Enhance Beta-Cell Proliferation and Function,” Brian Lu, Ph.D. (Mentor: Yasuhiro Ikeda, Ph.D.)
  • “Sensing of HIV-1 by the Innate Immune System,” Swati Kumar, Ph.D. (Mentor: David Dingli, M.D., Ph.D.)


  • “The Innate Immune System is a Major Determinant for Successful Oncolytic Measles Virotherapy," Cheyne B. Kurokawa, Ph.D. (Mentor: Evanthia Galanis, M.D.)
  • "The Dual Role of Perforin in the Balance Between Protection and Pathology During CNS Viral Infection and Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) Disruption," Robin C. Willenbring, Ph.D. (Mentor: Aaron Johnson, Ph.D.)


  • “B-type Natriuretic Peptide: Biology and Therapeutic Applications," Sara J Holditch, Ph.D. (Mentor: Yasuhiro Ikeda, Ph.D.)


  • “Evaluation of Viral Gene Expression and E3 Immunomodulatory Functions of Adenovirus Serotype 26 to Inform Vector Design for Cancer Therapy," Mallory A. M. Turner, Ph.D. (Mentor: Michael Barry, Ph.D.)
  • "Characterizing and Advancing Oncolytic Measles Virus Therapy Against Lymphoma," Tanner S. Miest, M.D., Ph.D. (Mentor: Roberto Cattaneo, Ph.D.)
  • "Engineering and Development of Single Cycle Adenovirus Vectors as Mucosal Vaccination Platforms," Catherine M. Crosby, Ph.D. (Mentor: Michael Barry, Ph.D.)

Your future

Many graduates of the Virology and Gene Therapy Track choose to pursue postdoctoral training regardless of whether they intend to pursue careers in academia or industry. Other students choose to enter advanced training programs like clinical microbiology and biochemical genetics programs.

After graduating from the program, you could also choose to pursue a career in education, scientific writing and editing, or become a scientific grant program officer. Several students from our laboratories have become tenured faculty and leaders in industry and in foundations.

Meet the director

Michael Barry, Ph.D.

Welcome to the Virology and Gene Therapy track at Mayo Clinic — a leading medical institution where you’ll receive training from some of the world’s brightest, most-distinguished scientists and physicians.

Our program works with other research and clinical programs at Mayo to facilitate rapid bench-to-bedside translation as well as easy access to clinical samples.

Our mission is to provide high-quality education you won’t find anywhere else.

Michael Barry, Ph.D.
Virology and Gene Therapy Track Director
Professor of Medicine
Phone: 507-266-9090
See research interests

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