Research Briefs - December

Dec 20, 2016, 14:18 PM by KirstiAnn Clifford
UTMB is the winner of a Grand Challenges Explorations grant, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The $100,000 grant will help Alejandro Castellanos-Gonzalez, PhD, assistant professor at UTMB, and his team pursue an innovative global health and development research project aimed at defining targets for drug development against a diarrhea-causing parasite. Diarrhea kills approximately 2,000 children every day and is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of 5, Castellanos-Gonzalez said. Recent studies have indicated that the infection caused by the intestinal parasite Cryptosporidium is one of the most prevalent causes of diarrhea in the world. There are no optimal treatments against this parasite, and the scientific community has concluded the lack of methods to study gene function in this microorganism is slowing development of novel drugs against the parasite. Castellanos-Gonzalezhas developed a novel method to silence genes in Cryptosporidiumby using complexes of protein with slicer activity and small interfering RNA. In this project, Castellanos-Gonzalez’s research team will identify and validate targets in Cryptosporidium with the objective of defining the optimal targets for drug development against this debilitating parasite. “This project has the potential to help people around the world,” Castellanos-Gonzalez said. “We are proud to have been selected for funding by the Grand Challenges Explorations to do this important work.”
New research from UTMB, in collaboration with Southwest University in Chongqing, China and the University of Leuven in Belgium, has pointed to a way to replicate the basic structure of the Zika virus, stripping it of the genes that make the virus infectious. The replicon system research was spearheaded by Xuping Xie, PhD, and recently published in EBioMedicine. Replicons are segments of viral genome that can replicate on their own, independent of the cellular chromosome. The new Zika replicon system has deleted some of the genes that give the virus its structure. Because of this, the altered Zika virus is no longer infectious, lowering the safety risk involved in working with it. “One of these replicons can be used to locate portions of the viral molecule that block or halt viral replication, making it a powerful tool for vaccine development,” said senior author Pei-Yong Shi, PhD, a professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology. The replicon system was engineered by attaching genes that allow researchers to tag certain parts of the virus they are interested in. Luciferase, the chemical that gives fireflies their signature glow was used to make targeted viral components light up—making processes like replication much easier to observe. The recent Zika virus outbreak has highlighted the urgent need to establish genetic tools for studying how the virus multiplies and causes disease within a newly infected person in order to develop countermeasures. Other authors include UTMB’s Xuping Xie, PhD; Jing Zou, PhD; Chao Shan, PhD; Yujiao Yang and Dieudonné Buh Kum. Kai Dallmeier, PhD, and Johan Neyts, PhD, from the University of Leuven in Belguim were co-authors. Yujiao Yang is also affiliated with Southwest University in China.
Between 2009 and 2012, the number of young women in the United States completing the human papillomavirus vaccine series doubled. In the same period of time, HPV infections were nearly cut in half. “These highly encouraging results suggest that the number of HPV-related cancers and genital warts will markedly decrease in the U.S. over time,” said Dr. Abbey Berenson, director of UTMB’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women’s Health. Berenson was the lead author in a study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, where researchers at UTMB found that in the years 2009 and 2010, 15.4 percent of U.S. females 18 to 26 years old were infected by at least one of the four vaccine-type strains of HPV. In the years 2011 and 2012, the number infected dropped to 8.5 percent. The quadrivalent HPV vaccine offers protections against four strains of the virus: two strains that cause genital warts and two strains that cause cancer. These findings complement other reports on the decline of HPV infections among vaccine-eligible populations. The present study used national survey and genotyping data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to uncover an impressive drop in vaccine-type HPV prevalence in a short period of time. However, Berenson said there is still more health care providers can do to make sure more women are able to get the vaccine. In addition to Berenson, the other two authors of the study are two former UTMB researchers Mahbubur Rahman, MBBS, PhD, now at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology at St. Luke’s International University in Tokyo, and Tabassum Laz, MBBS, PhD, now with Research and Consulting Services in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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