$4 Million Granted for Mosquito-Borne Viruses Research

With 5 grants totaling nearly $4 million, researchers will target deadly infectious diseases transmitted to humans via mosquitos.

With 5 grants totaling nearly $4 million, researchers will target deadly infectious diseases transmitted to humans via mosquitos.

A team at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) will use the grant money to develop vaccines against multiple viruses. Successful results within a certain time period could potentially add $3 million more to support the studies.

“This recent funding highlights the globally significant research being done right here in Pittsburgh to help develop ways to protect people against emerging diseases of growing concern,” Ronald Montelaro, PhD, professor and co-director of Pitt’s CVR, said in a news release.

Two out of the 3 grants which William Klimstra, PhD, is the principal investigator of will focus on eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV). The disease can progress to seizures or coma before potentially being fatal. There is currently no treatment for it and even if a patient survives they can experience severe brain damage. One of the grants will go toward analyzing the genetic code of EEEV and the other will fund work to create a vaccine for it — totaling $847,000 from a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health.

Klimstra’s other grant, totaling $1.2 million from the US Department of Defense (DOD), will focus on creating a vaccine against 3 strains of alphavirus, which consists of 30 different viruses. EEEV, Venezuelan (VEEV), and western (WEEV) are just a few of the diseases in the alphavirus that will be studied by researchers at Pitt along with researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Oregon Health and Sciences University.

“While the number of people who get these diseases is relatively small, the severity of disease their potential emergence in larger populations or for use as bioweapons drive the necessity for development of countermeasures,” said Klimstra, an associate professor at Pitt’s CVR.

The other 2 grants will be led by Kate D. Ryman, PhD. The first is provided by the DOD worth $1 million and will work to find how those 3 strains of alphavirus, along with the Rift Valley Fever virus (RVFV), get to the brain so that it can be limited.

The final grant consists of $725,000 from the DOD and will study VEEV. The researchers will use cows that were genetically altered to produce human antibodies in order to cause anti-VEEV antibodies to surface. This could reveal ways to protect humans against the virus.

“The technologies used in these studies and the systematic manner in which vaccines and therapeutics for the alphaviruses are being developed are novel and, given positive results, these approaches can be readily applied to other emerging infectious diseases,” confirmed Ryman, an associate professor at Pitt’s CVR.