Research Briefs

Jun 21, 2016, 14:45 PM by User Not Found

A multidisciplinary team led by Pei-Yong Shi, PhD, UTMB endowed professor of Human Genetics, is the first in the world to genetically engineer a clone of the Zika virus strain. For 60 years, the Zika virus remained obscure with few identified cases in people and mild disease symptoms. However, since 2007, the virus has sparked frequent epidemics associated with serious diseases such as microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome. The research development could expedite many aspects of Zika research, including vaccine and therapeutics development. Cloning the virus unlocks scientists’ ability to more quickly develop countermeasures and explore whether or how the Zika virus has evolved to spread more quickly and cause more severe diseases in people. The new Zika clone, together with mosquito infection models and the UTMB-developed Zika mouse model, represent a major advance towards deciphering why the virus is tied to serious diseases. There are a number of possible factors that may account for the current Zika virus epidemic that can now be tested with the UTMB clone. The study is available in the journal Cell Host and Microbe.

In addition to his published Zika research, Shi has also received $1.9 million from the Pan American Health Organization to develop a safe and effective Zika virus vaccine. Shi and his colleagues will use two complementary approaches to vaccine development. The first is a subunit vaccine.Vaccines of this type have been successfully developed for other viruses, have been shown to be potent in the closely related West Nile virus in animal models and have outstanding safety data. The second is a live attenuated vaccine using reverse genetic technology. Two regions within the Zika virus will be mutated or deleted to weaken the virus.

Yong-Fang Kuo, PhD, professor of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, has been awarded more than $745,000 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to conduct the first national population-based investigation of patients who receive their care from a team of both physicians and nurse practitioners in a “shared care” model. Although interdisciplinary-team care has been shown to improve outcomes, especially for patients with complex medical conditions that require coordination of care with various healthcare providers, how these models operate in more diverse patient populations and clinical settings is unknown. The newly funded renewal study will address this critical gap in knowledge.

N. Muge Kuyumcu-Martinez, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and colleagues have uncovered a molecular mechanism involved in diabetic cardiomyopathy. Diabetics are up to five times more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, and cardiac complications are their No. 1 cause of death. For decades, physicians have noticed unhealthy changes in the hearts of diabetics, which can lead to heart failure.The molecular mechanisms responsible for this cardiac disorder are poorly understood, although they are key to revealing new targets for the discovery of better treatments and development of more accurate diagnostics. The study appears in the journal Cell Reports.

Compiled from press releases written by Donna Ramirez and Christopher Smith Gonzalez. Find out more at