Stephen J. Polyak, PhD

Research Professor | Director, Master's of Laboratory Medicine Graduate Program

Stephen J. Polyak, PhD


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Office Location:

HMC - NJB Room 3NJ342

Mailing Address:

Box 359743
325 9th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104

Clinical and Research Background

Dr. Polyak’s research focuses on the interactions between cells and viruses, with a historical focus on hepatitis C (HCV), with more recent studies focused on Zika virus (ZIKV) and related flaviviruses, filoviruses (Ebola (EBOV), Marburg (MARV) and arenaviruses (Lassa (LASV), Junin (JUNV). One area of study is the cellular innate antiviral and inflammatory responses to virus infection. Dr. Polyak and his team study how natural products engage human cells to protect them from damage by virus infection and chronic inflammation. They extensively studied the liver protective natural product silymarin (a.k.a. milk thistle from Silybum marianum) on HCV infection and inflammation. Dr. Polyak’s research also studies the synthetic antiviral called Arbidol (ARB; a.k.a. umifenovir), a drug used clinically in Russia and China to combat influenza virus infection. His work has shown that ARB inhibits a growing list of globally prevalent viruses including HCV, EBOV, MARV, LASV, JUNV, and ZIKV. ARB is also being investigated as an antiviral agent for the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Using this expertise in approved drugs as broad-spectrum antivirals, Dr. Polyak has recently pivoted to repurposing of combinations of viral outbreak control, with studies focused on filoviruses, arenaviruses, and the newly emerged coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the etiologic agent of COVID-19. Finally, through a collaboration with the UW’s Department of Global Health, Dr. Polyak’s lab is participating in studies in Africa focused on inflammatory and metabolic diseases in HIV-infected individuals.

Dr. Polyak’s research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) including the NIAID, NIDDK, NCCIH, and NIAAA. Recent state funding from the Washington Research Foundation is assisting efforts on drug repurposing for COVID-19. A recent grant from NCCIH is focusing on natural products that block SARS-CoV-2 infection of lung cells and virus-induced inflammation. Dr. Polyak is an editorial board member and/or reviewer for several virology and hepatology journals, and has served as a study section member or reviewer nationally (NIH) and internationally (Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Singapore National Medical Research Council). Dr. Polyak is a lifetime member of the American Society for Virology (ASV).

Research Interests

Virology, virus-induced inflammation, flaviviruses, filoviruses, arenaviruses, coronaviruses, synthetic and natural antiviral compounds

Academic and Medical Appointments

Adjunct Professor, Department of Global Health

Adjunct Professor, Department of Microbiology

Education and Training

Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 1994-1998

Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, 1993-1994

PhD (Molecular Virology and Immunology), McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, 1993

BSc (Honors Biology, summa cum laude), McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, 1987


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