Research Briefs - September

Sep 22, 2016, 11:10 AM by User Not Found

Thomas Geisbert, PhD,
in collaboration with Arbutus Biopharma Corporation, has protected nonhuman primates against Ebola Sudan four days after exposure to the virus. The study results, which were recently published in Nature Microbiology, demonstrated that the treatment was effective at a point when animals had detectable levels of the virus in their system and were at an advanced stage of disease. “This is a key step in our efforts to protect people from this terrible, lethal disease,” Geisbert said. “The Ebola virus has five different types and will continue to impact people throughout the African continent, unfortunately with a high mortality rate.” Geisbert noted that significant progress has been made in developing therapeutics against Ebola Zaire, the type responsible for the 2014-2015 outbreak in West Africa. However, those drugs may not be effective against Ebola Sudan. Since 2010, Ebola Sudan has been responsible for three outbreaks, and until 2014, had caused the largest outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever on record, with 425 confirmed cases in Uganda in 2000. The treatment uses a specific short strand of RNA, known as siRNA, designed to target and interfere with the Ebola Sudan virus, rendering it harmless. This clinically validated technology has been used successfully to protect non-human primates against Ebola Zaire and Marburg virus infection.

MosquitoDr. Robert Tesh and Saravanan Thangamani, PhD, have shown that female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes can pass the Zika virus to their eggs and offspring. The recent Zika virus outbreak in Florida has dramatically increased efforts to remove A. aegypti mosquitoes. The new findings highlight the importance of including larvicide in the efforts to curb the spread of the Zika virus. The findings can be found in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. “The implications for viral control are clear,” said Tesh. “It makes control harder. Spraying affects adults, but it does not usually kill the immature forms—the eggs and larvae. Spraying will reduce transmission, but it may not eliminate the virus.” To determine whether female mosquitoes that carry Zika virus pass it on to their offspring, researchers injected laboratory-reared A. aegypti with the virus. The mosquitoes were fed, and within the next week they were laying eggs. The researchers collected and incubated the eggs and reared the hatched larvae until adult mosquitoes emerged. Culture of these adults found Zika virus in one of every 290 mosquitoes tested. “The ratio may sound low,” Thangamani said, “But when you consider the number of A. aegypti in a tropical urban community, it is likely high enough to allow some virus to persist, even when infected adult mosquitoes are killed.” The researchers urge more insect studies while at the same time expanding methods to reduce the number of Aedes mosquitoes in and around homes to protect people from Zika virus infection.

UTMB receives $8.2 million from CPRIT for cancer research and prevention

UTMB faculty have received three grants totaling more than $8.2 million in funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The grants support prevention services for some of the most vulnerable populations in Texas.

  • A $6 million grant will allow researchers to study cancer treatments and their outcomes for patients. The study seeks to identify which tests and treatments work best for patients. Knowledge gained from the study will help doctors to better present treatment options to patients. Dr. James Goodwin, UTMB’s George and Cynthia Mitchell Distinguished Chair in Geriatric Medicine, is the principal investigator.
  • A $1.4 million grant will focus on increasing the number of women who receive a full series of the human papilloma virus vaccine. Led by Dr. Abbey Berenson, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women’s Health, the project will focus on reaching low-income women in Southeast Texas.
  • Another cancer prevention project received more than $747,000 for a school-based HPV vaccination program in the lower Rio GrandeValley. The project is led by Dr. Ana Rodriquez, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UTMB.

To date, CPRIT has awarded 1,059 grants totaling more than $1.64 billion to Texas researchers. The agency was launched in 2009 after Texas voters approved a 2007 constitutional amendment committing $3 billion to the fight against cancer.

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