Signal Processing meets Immunology- Towards a Hepatitis C Vaccine via High-Dimensional Covariance Estimation

Matthew McKay (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)
February 03, 2015 — 10:30 — Location: None


Chronic Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection is one of the leading causes of liver failure and liver cancer, affecting around 3% of the world’s population. Current treatment for HCV is expensive, frequently fails, and accompanies massive side effects. Thus, there is an urgent need for an efficient HCV vaccine. The major problem related to the design of a HCV vaccine is its extreme variability that helps it to evade immune surveillance. This talk will discuss a new approach to vaccine design for HCV based on finding “multi-dimensionally conserved residues?. Effectively, the approach is based on a statistical study of the diverse publicly-available HCV sequences, using methods common in statistical signal processing; primarily, robust covariance estimation. Our analysis reveals parts of the virus that may be most susceptible to immune pressure, despite the high mutability of the virus. These studies are backed up with clinical evidence and serve as a basis for new vaccine designs that we propose. The talk is directed towards an electrical engineering or statistical signal processing audience, and assumes no prior knowledge of biology or immunology.


Matthew McKay received his Ph.D. from the University of Sydney, Australia, prior to joining the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), where he is currently the Hari Harilela Associate Professor of Electronic and Computer Engineering. He is currently on leave at MIT as a Visiting Scientist in the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES). Matthew’s research interests include communications, signal processing, and associated applications. Most recently, he has developed a keen interest in the interdisciplinary areas of computational immunology and financial engineering. He and his coauthors have received best paper awards at IEEE ICASSP 2006, IEEE VTC 2006, ACM IWCMC 2010, IEEE Globecom 2010, and IEEE ICC 2011. He also received a 2010 Young Author Best Paper Award by the IEEE Signal Processing Society, the 2011 Stephen O. Rice Prize in the Field of Communication Theory by the IEEE Communication Society, and the 2011 Young Investigator Research Excellence Award by the School of Engineering at HKUST. In 2013, he was the recipient the Asia-Pacific Best Young Researcher Award by the IEEE Communication Society.