Ryan F. Relich, PhD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
Dr. Ryan Relich is an American Board of Medical Microbiology-certified medical microbiologist who is passionately interested in all facets of diagnostic microbiology and laboratory medicine, especially laboratory directorship, infectious disease epidemiology and pathology, new diagnostic test development and evaluation, pathogen discovery, and viral ecology. In his current academic position at the Indiana University School of Medicine, he is actively involved in fellow, resident, and student teaching, and research involving in vitro diagnostic product development, clinical trials, and emerging virus ecology. As an employee of Indiana University Health, Dr. Relich serves as the Section Director of Clinical Virology and Associate Medical Director of the Divisions of Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Relich also serves as Section Director, Clinical Microbiology and Serology for Eskenazi Health. Dr. Relich is immensely interested in the ecology of emerging viruses, pandemic preparedness, novel virus discovery and characterization, and establishing best practices for manipulating highly infectious clinical specimens for routine testing. For more information on Dr. Relich's research interests, please click on the "Research" tab below.
Titles & Appointments
- Section Director, Clinical Microbiology and Serology Laboratory (Eskenazi Health)
- Medical Director, IU Health Special Pathogens Unit Clinical Laboratory
- Medical Director, Clinical Virology Laboratory (IU Health)
- Associate Medical Director, Division of Clinical Microbiology (IU Health)
- Associate Medical Director, Division of Molecular Pathology (IU Health)
Emerging viral diseases pose a significant threat to the health and safety of the global community. Since the start of the 21st century, a number of novel viruses, including avian influenza A H7N9 virus, Bundibugyo virus, Heartland virus, human metapneumovirus, and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), have emerged in the human population and have proven to be formidable pathogens. In addition, known viruses such as chikungunya virus and Zika virus have become established in new locations, including tropical regions in the Western Hemisphere. The emergence of these and other pathogens have exposed many weaknesses in global infectious disease readiness and response infrastructures, and have revealed the need to better understand where these agents come from and what factors govern their spillover from natural reservoirs into the human population. A common factor in almost all outbreaks of novel viral pathogens is the involvement of one or more animal species, including birds, mammals (e.g., bats and rodents), and arthropods (e.g., ticks and mosquitoes), that serve as reservoirs, intermediaries, or vectors. By investigating the relationships between viruses, their reservoirs and vectors, and human and animal hosts, as well as possible drivers of their emergence (e.g., human encroachment on wild lands), it will be possible to better predict viral emergence so that either preventive or abatement countermeasures can be implemented in a rapid time frame.
Research in my laboratory is currently focused on four specific areas concerning emerging viruses:
1. Surveillance for emerging pathogenic viruses in arthropods collected in Indiana and abroad. By using a combination of classical and modern methods, including viral culture, real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and next-generation sequencing, we seek to determine the prevalence of several emerging pathogenic viruses in possible vector and reservoir species endemic to Indiana and abroad. To do so, we have partnered with Project Vector Shield, an Indiana University Movement Ecology working group, to capture, identify, and analyze ticks and mosquitoes from Indiana for viruses such as Bourbon virus, Heartland virus, Lone Star virus, Powassan virus, and others. In addition, we will soon begin collaborations with scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) and the Mayo Clinic to assess the neurovirulence of clinical and field isolates of California encephalitis serogroup viruses, a large group of mosquito-borne orthobunyaviruses that include Jamestown Canyon virus, Inkoo virus, and La Crosse virus, among others. Another collaboration with the New England College of Osteopathic Medicine will focus on the prevalence of tick-borne viruses in tick populations gathered from Maine.
2. Surveillance for emerging pathogenic viruses in bats and rodents collected in Indiana and Central America. Similar to our surveillance work for arthropod-borne viruses, we will surveil native and exotic bats and rodents for emerging, and potentially pathogenic, viruses. These two groups of animals comprise the largest mammalian species diversity on the planet and are known to be reservoirs of an enormous number of viruses, including well-known pathogens such as arenaviruses (e.g., Lassa virus), coronaviruses (e.g., MERS-CoV), filoviruses (e.g., Ebola virus), hantaviruses (e.g., Sin Nombre virus), lyssaviruses (e.g., rabies virus), paramyxoviruses (e.g., Nipah virus), and many others. We wish to determine the prevalence of potentially pathogenic viruses, including a few of those just mentioned, among native and neotropical bats and rodents. Through collaborations with researchers at Indiana University and the NIH, we will begin our studies by analyzing white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and neotropical fruit bat, including Artibeus species, specimens using PCR and next-generation sequencing. Cultivation of viruses will be attempted at the NIH RML in Hamilton, MT.
3. Investigating the pathogenicity of tick-borne viruses endemic to the U.S. Midwest. Bourbon virus (BRBV) and Heartland virus (HRTV) are two relatively recently discovered tick-borne viruses that are known to be virulent human pathogens. Both of these viruses have caused significant morbidity and mortality in a small number of human hosts, suggesting that these viruses, although currently rarely encountered, could pose serious dangers to at-risk populations in the future if they become more prevalent. To that end, we wish to characterize the pathogenesis of these viruses in both cell culture and in animal models in order to understand how they cause disease and, if possible, identify therapeutic and/or preventive countermeasures. In the future, we plan to assess BRBV and HRTV pathogenicity in collaboration with researchers at the NIH RML and other institutions.
4. Development and refinement of diagnostics for emerging viruses, including arenaviruses, bunyaviruses, filoviruses, orthomyxoviruses, and paramyxoviruses. In addition to our other interests, we are passionate about developing new technologies and methods for the diagnosis of emerging viral diseases and refining currently existing diagnostics to make them field-deployable or otherwise better in terms of their analytical sensitivity, specificity, and turnaround time. Collaborations with outside institutions, including the NIH, are already underway to determine the utility of commercially available influenza diagnostic tests for detecting novel influenza A viruses (e.g., H7N9 and H5N1 strains), the ability of a rapid multiplex PCR system to detect variants of MERS-CoV, and the strain inclusivity of a variety of multiplex PCR systems that are designed to detect high-consequence pathogens such as Ebola, Lassa, and Nipah viruses.
1. Indiana University Project Vector Shield:
Daniel Becker, PhD,Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.
Ellen Ketterson, PhD, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.
2. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.
3. New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, Biddeford, ME.
4. NIH RML, Hamilton, MT.
Karin Peterson, PhD, Senior Investigator, Neuroimmunology Unit
I am also a member of the IU School of Medicine Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine's Industry-Sponsored Clinical Research Group, which is headed by Dr. Christopher Emery, another Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine faculty member. More information on this program, it's faculty, and research interests, please click on this link: https://medicine.iu.edu/research/clinical/in-vitro/.
Mosquitoes and Ticks
American Society for Microbiology
American Society for Virology
Pan American Society for Clinical Virology
South Central Association for Clinical Microbiology
Desc: Clinical Pathology teaching Award