Joshua Hill (Left) pictured here with Michael Boeckh

Joshua Hill awarded a 5-year grant to study HHV-6

(Photo: Joshua Hill, left, standing with Michael Boeckh)

Congratulations to Joshua Hill, MD, Acting Instructor at the University of Washington and Research Associate at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who has won a K23 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study HHV-6 in lower respiratory tract disease and chromosomally integrated HHV-6 after stem cell transplantation (SCT). The K23 grant program provides support for career development of investigators who have made a commitment to focus on patient-oriented research.

Hill’s grant application provided a detailed plan to improve his knowledge of advanced epidemiology, biostatistics, molecular virology, and conducting prospective studies. This work will be guided by the expertise of an outstanding group of mentors at University of Washington, including Michael Boeckh, Head of Infectious Disease Sciences at Fred Hutch, Keith Jerome, Director of the UW Molecular Virology Laboratory, and Danielle Zerr, Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, as well as other experts in laboratory medicine, pathology, and statistics.

Dr. Hill was the first author on a seminal paper regarding the unusually high level of HHV-6 limbic encephalitis in cord blood transplant patients (10%) while he was at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Dana Farber Cancer Institute (Hill 2012). He has published multiple papers related to HHV-6 in immunocompromised patients, including a recent study on the association of HHV-6B reactivation and delirium in cord blood transplant recipients (Hill 2015). This study built on the results originally published by Danielle Zerr (Zerr 2011), who is a leading researcher studying the impact of HHV-6 reactivation on delirium and cognitive functioning and has published extensively on HHV-6 primary infection and reactivation after SCT.

L-R: Joshua Hill, Michael Boeckh

“This grant will enable me to achieve my long-term goal of becoming an independent clinically-oriented physician-scientist, focusing on viral infections in immunocompromised hosts,” commented Dr. Hill.

The first aim of this proposal involves a large retrospective study to determine the clinical significance of HHV-6 in lower respiratory tract disease after SCT. The UW team, led by Dr. Michael Boeckh, recently published an important paper on establishing HHV-6 as an important pathogen in idiopathic pneumonia syndrome (Seo 2015). Dr. Hill will expand the findings from the retrospective study by performing prospective sample collection in patients with pulmonary disease after SCT. Pulmonary HHV-6 infection and disease may be a contributor to the findings recently reported by Hill et al that HHV-6 and CMV co-reactivation is associated with worse clinical outcomes among critically ill adults (Hill 2015).

Hill’s proposal also includes a large-scale study of SCT recipients affected by chromosomally integrated HHV-6, capitalizing on a novel molecular test to quickly and easily identify affected patients recently published by the UW group under the direction of Keith Jerome (Sedlak 2014).

Cover Photo: Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch News Service