From 1990 to 2014 Dr. Garcia-Blanco was at Duke University where he was the Charles D. Watts Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, and Medicine, and Director of the Center for RNA Biology. He is an internationally recognized expert in RNA biology and virology and is an author of more than 180 scientific publications and has been continuously NIH funded since the early 1990s. Dr. Garcia-Blanco has mentored twenty doctoral students and forty postdoctoral fellows. Additionally, he has been the founder of Intronn Inc. (VIRxSYS, Rockville, MD, USA), Veri-Q Inc. (part of Proteome Sciences plc, Cobham, UK), Singapore Advanced Biologics Pte Ltd (SABio), and Autoimmunity Biologic Solutions, Inc. (ABS). Professor Garcia-Blanco has served as a member of Scientific Advisory Board for European Alternative Splicing Network of Excellence (EU), National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council (NIH, USA), and a Trustee of the Puerto Rico Trust for Science, Research and Technology. He is currently a member of the Council of Scientific Advisers for the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (United Nations). He is a member of the editorial board of RNA. Dr. Garcia-Blanco was a Raymond and Beverly Sackler Scholar (1997-2002), elected to the Association of American Physicians (2011), fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012), and fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (2013).
Dr. Garcia-Blanco has dedicated his career to study how RNA-protein interactions regulate gene expression in cells and viruses. These studies have focused on several areas of high biomedical importance and focus on the intersection between RNA biology and immunity.
The first project deals with RNA binding proteins that regulate immunity and their dysregulation in autoimmunity. In collaboration with Dr. Simon Gregory (Duke University), Dr. Garcia-Blanco and colleagues showed that alternative splicing of the interleukin 7 receptor (IL7R) transcripts regulates levels of soluble IL7R and confers increased risk for multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder of the central nervous system. Dr. Garcia-Blanco’s group dissected the regulation of this splicing event and uncovered the identity of important trans-acting regulators. Recently they discovered that the RNA helicase DDX39B is a critical activator of IL7R exon 6 splicing and reduced levels of DDX39B, an activator of exon 6 inclusion, leads to increased production of soluble IL7R in cells in culture, and is associated with increased risk for MS in human populations. Indeed, in collaboration with several groups at Duke and Case West Reserve universities they found there is an epistatic interaction between the RNA helicase DDX39B and the IL7R genes that explains increase risk of multiple sclerosis and likely other autoimmune disorders. The Garcia-Blanco laboratory is exploring how RNA binding proteins, like DDX39B, regulate important immune reactions.
Dr. Garcia-Blanco has embarked on a second program of investigation: RNA-protein interactions important for pathogenic flaviviruses: dengue, yellow fever and Zika viruses. He and his colleagues have identified human and mosquito host factors, many of which are RNA binding proteins (RBPs), that positively or negatively impact on Flavivirus replication. The information gained from these studies has given important mechanistic insights into how important pathogens replicate and how they evade human and mosquito immunity. This project has highlighted the importance of a noncoding RNA produced by flaviviruses (the flaviviral subgenomic RNA or sfRNA) that is a potent negative regulator of innate immunity in both humans and mosquitos.
Dr. Garcia-Blanco shares leadership of the laboratories at UTMB (https://bmb.utmb.edu/MGB-Bradrick) and Duke-NUS Medical School with Dr. Shelton S. Bradrick (MGB-Bradrick) and Dr. Julien Pompon respectively.