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GEN’s editorial staff interviews life science academic and biotech industry leaders on important research, technology, and trends. These podcasts will keep you informed with all the important details you need.

The reason deadly infections like HIV and hepatitis C never go away is because these viruses disarm the body’s defense system. However, scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) recently reported (Science Online May 14) that a key immunity protein must be present for this defense system to have a chance against chronic infection.

Research up to now has tried but failed to decipher the cross-talk between killer T-cells and helper T-cells in the battle against viruses, according to the investigators. The new UAB study finds this cross-talk can only happen in the presence of interleukin-21, a powerful immune system protein. If interleukin-21 is missing for whatever reason, the immune system’s anti-viral efforts fail.

During this week's podcast lead author Dr. Allan Zajac discusses the consequences of an ineffective antiviral immune response and how diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C represent examples of the immune system’s inability to meet these viral challenges. He details the role of interleukin 21 in relation to the antiviral immune response and describes how it carries out its job in helping to mount an effective antiviral immune response.

Dr. Zajac also talks about how his team experimentally demonstrated the significant role for IL-21 in the control of a chronic viral infection and how the group’s findings might be translated into new antiviral therapeutics.

Allan Zajac, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the UAB Department of Microbiology and leading expert in how the immune system combats viral infections. His primary research interest is how anti-viral CD8 T-cell responses are triggered or why those responses may be ineffective. Originally from the London-area of the U.K., Zajac has spent years working in the Southeast and at UAB for more than a decade.

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