Rapid, broad countermeasures sought against mystery infections

April 8, 2014, University of Washington
Dr. Michael Katze and Dr. Angela Rasmussen of the University of Washington are seeking broad, versatile countermeasures to new viral pathogens by measuring host responses. They are part of a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease program, based at Columbia University, to more rapidly respond to emerging and re-emerging pathogens and bioterrorism agents. Credit: Rose Howard/University of Washington

A group of University of Washington scientists is seeking broad, versatile countermeasures effective against several different kinds of viruses and other pathogens. The investigators are part of a national push for faster responses to unexpected infectious agents. These include newly emerging, unknown pathogens, forgotten ones, those expanding beyond their usual geographic range, or dangerous new strains of old enemies like influenza.

"Emerging viruses are a major threat to global , especially because few antivirals are available to treat patients," noted Michael Katze, UW professor of microbiology who is heading the UW contributions to this effort. "There is a significant need for methods to rapidly identify newly emergent pathogens, but also to guide medical treatments and to quickly contain outbreaks."

The UW is one of seven institutions across the country recently chosen as part of the Center for Research in Diagnostic and Discovery program, under the auspices of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Centers of Excellence for Translational Research. The Center brings together experts from across the country in microbial ecology, human and microbe genetics, engineering, public health and many other fields.

In concert, the Center investigators will devise new ways to prevent, detect, track, diagnose and treat emerging and re-emerging and counter bioterrorism. W. Ian Lipkin of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University is leading the $31 million effort. Over the next five years, the University of Washington is expected to receive approximately $5 million of this grant from NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The project extends the Katze lab's inventive, basic research to potential clinical applications against new viral pathogens, such as those behind Ebola hemorrhagic fever, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, also known as SARS, avian influenza, and others, according to Angela Rasmussen, a UW research scientist and project manager for the new UW research center.

She added that the new Center will allow the Katze lab to leverage its extensive experience with genomics and systems biology to develop new diagnostic tools and prognostic assays.

The lab, she noted, also wants to identify drugs that can be repurposed for timely responses to epidemics and biodefense threats.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that it has shifted its strategy away from "one-bug-one-drug" toward building a more flexible, broad-spectrum arsenal against multiple pathogens.

Newly emerging pathogens vary in the degree of illness they cause. Some people can be infected with an unheard-of virus and have no symptoms. Other times, viruses that have never struck a human population before can have lethal manifestations, such as blood loss, brain swelling, or extreme difficulty breathing.

The Katze lab will analyze how infected organisms, their genes, cells and immune systems, and their viral attackers interact with each other. They will use machine-learning computer modeling, profiles of gene transcriptions and other measures of genome-wide activity, as well as non-linear geometric and other mathematical methods, to discover ways to measure infectious disease severity. These measurements point out distinctive signatures in the hosts' reaction to infection.

The signatures might assist in diagnosing illness, predicting disease outcome, and finding new ways of modulating the host response to ward off or tame pathogens.

The researchers will also mine drug databases to uncover existing therapies to repurpose. Their host signature method complements traditional emerging infectious disease or bioterrorism research, which often depends on locating, cultivating and identifying the virus or other causative agent.

In their proposal, the researchers indicated that they hope the combination of approaches will reduce "the difficulties in responding to contain and treat previously unknown or uncharacterized pathogens."

Research for this project will also take place in the high-containment laboratory at National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana. Funding for this project is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (U19 AI109761).

Explore further: MERS-CoV treatment effective in monkeys, study finds

Related Stories

MERS-CoV treatment effective in monkeys, study finds

September 8, 2013
Treatment with two common drugs reduced viral replication and lung damage when given to monkeys infected with the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The condition is deadly pneumonia that has killed more ...

NIH scientists reflect on gains in emerging infectious disease awareness, research and response

December 11, 2012
In a new essay, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and David Morens, M.D., reflect on what has been learned about emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) in the two decades ...

Novel drug treatment protects primates from deadly Marburg virus

March 4, 2014
For the first time, scientists have demonstrated the effectiveness of a small-molecule drug in protecting nonhuman primates from the lethal Marburg virus. Their work, published online in the journal Nature, is the result ...

Study reveals how SARS virus hijacks host cells

August 22, 2013
UC Irvine infectious disease researchers have uncovered components of the SARS coronavirus – which triggered a major outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2002-03 – that allow it to take over host cells in ...

Tactics of new Middle East virus suggest treating by altering lung cells' response to infection

April 30, 2013
A new virus that causes severe breathing distress and kidney failure elicits a distinctive airway cell response to allow it to multiply. Scientists studying the Human Coronavirus-Erasmus Medical Center, which first appeared ...

Recommended for you

Flu may be spread just by breathing, new study shows; coughing and sneezing not required

January 18, 2018
It is easier to spread the influenza virus (flu) than previously thought, according to a new University of Maryland-led study released today. People commonly believe that they can catch the flu by exposure to droplets from ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

New study validates clotting risk factors in chronic kidney disease

January 17, 2018
In late 2017, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) discovered and published (Science Translational Medicine, (9) 417, Nov 2017) a potential treatment target to prevent chronic kidney disease (CKD) ...

Fresh approach to tuberculosis vaccine offers better protection

January 17, 2018
A unique platform that resulted in a promising HIV vaccine has also led to a new, highly effective vaccine against tuberculosis that is moving toward testing in humans.

Newly-discovered TB blood signal provides early warning for at-risk patients

January 17, 2018
Tuberculosis can be detected in people with HIV infection via a unique blood signal before symptoms appear, according to a new study by researchers from the Crick, Imperial College London and the University of Cape Town.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.