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Austintown native finds joy up close with viruses

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Austintown native finds joy up close with viruses

Submitted photo Zachary Morse, an Austintown native, has been intently studying varieties of viruses for several years. Austintown native Zachary Morse said he was “a bit of an outlier” in his blue-collar family when he became the first to attend college at Youngstown State University.

Ten years later, he’s still attending university, finishing a Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

“I’m basically in grade 24 or 25 at this point,” Morse joked.

After double-majoring in chemistry and biology at YSU, Morse went on to get his master’s degree from the university, specializing in cell and molecular biology. Then, Morse uprooted and moved across the continent to Vancouver, where he is about a year away from finishing his doctorate.

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The lab where he does his research focuses on viruses that may trigger autoimmune disorders, looking at viruses such as HIV or Epstein-Barr virus, that seem to cause lasting immune responses in some people.

The virus Morse works with most, coxsackievirus, is believed to cause Type 1 diabetes in people — though it’s not known for certain if it does. The virus seems to cause changes in gut bacteria, which alters the immune system and activates certain immune cells that attack cells in the pancreas that make insulin.

“Your immune system then gets confused and starts attacking your own body,” Morse explained. He said coxsackievirus is not unlike novel coronavirus, which has triggered a worldwide pandemic. There is evidence novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, also can cause lasting autoimmune problems.“Given the current circumstances, it’s more apparent than ever why this type of research is so important — to help understand what kind of effects […]

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