West Nile virus, Usutu virus, Zika virus and St. Louis encephalitis virus are all transmitted by mosquitoes and pose a significant threat to human health.
Nisha Duggal, assistant professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, recently received three R21 grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling $825,000 to fight the transmission of these diseases, develop therapies and predict future disease in humans.
“Mosquito-borne viruses are emerging globally, with an increasing host range and disease potential. With this funding, we determine who is most at risk of transmission and seek to develop future vaccines and therapeutics,” said Duggal, who is also an affiliated faculty. member of the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic, and Arthropod-borne Pathogens and of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.
Duggal’s long-term goal is to understand how viral adaptation during emergence affects virus transmission and pathogenesis. His interests are in emerging viruses, host-virus co-evolution, virus transmission and immunity in birds.
With these grants, Duggal and his research team will address the transmission and pathogenesis of Usutu virus, West Nile virus, and St. Louis encephalitis virus in mosquitoes and birds; study the sexual transmission of the Zika virus in humans; and using molecular virology and phylogenetics tools to predict future viral emergence and disease.
“Nisha’s innovative research on these medically important mosquito-borne viruses fits neatly into an important thematic area of vector biology and vector-borne diseases within the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic and Arthropod “borne Pathogens. These grants will allow Nisha to continue her ongoing research collaborations inside and outside of Virginia Tech and further establish her as a rising star in the field of emerging viral and vector-borne diseases.” , said XJ Meng, university professor emeritus and acting executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.
West Nile virus and Usutu virus research
West Nile virus and Usutu virus are closely related mosquito-borne viruses that cause diseases of the human nervous system. West Nile virus emerged from Africa and Europe in the United States in 1999, and is now the most common mosquito-borne disease in the Americas; however, no vaccine or treatment is available. The Usutu virus is emerging in Europe, where it has been introduced at least three times from Africa by migratory birds, and cases of human illness are on the rise.
For this project, Duggal is developing a reverse genetics system by turning viral RNA into DNA that can be more easily manipulated for experiments. Duggal hopes to find cross-reactivity in immune responses to determine if future vaccines can be used for both viruses. The long-term goal is the development of therapies to reduce the disease.
Zika virus research
Zika virus disease outbreaks have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. The Zika virus is also transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy and through sexual contact, transfusion of blood and blood products, and organ transplantation.
Duggal and his team plan to use this grant to identify the infectivity of Zika virus in semen and the window of time during which infection is possible between sexual partners. Upon successful completion of the proposed research, the anticipated impact of this work will be the identification of the cellular source of Zika virus in semen and the ability to assess and prevent the risk of sexual transmission of Zika virus.
Research on West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus and Usutu virus
West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus, and Usutu virus are closely related mosquito-borne viruses that persist in overlapping cycles of bird and mosquito transmission, with spillover effects on humans.
Duggal and his team will study North American birds and mosquitoes to identify possible transmission cycles. The long-term goal of this project is to understand the factors that influence the emergence of new viruses in order to predict future epidemics in humans.
“These projects require a lot of collaboration, and we are excited to partner with Dr. James Weger-Lucarelli from Virginia Tech and Dr. Angela Bosco-Lauth from Colorado State University to advance this research. It is important to track viruses of concern. in order to prevent future pandemics”,
Nisha Duggal, assistant professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine