Clinical Testing of Zika Vaccine will Begin Soon
A team led by Kuhn and Rossmann of Purdue University is the first to determine the structure of the Zika virus (of falavivirus family). Knowing the structure of the Zika virus will help in development of antiviral treatments and vaccines. Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease and has recently been associated with a birth defect called microcephaly that causes brain damage and an abnormally small head in babies born to mothers infected during pregnancy. PhD candidate at Purdue University and lead author of the paper on the Zika virus findings in the journal Science, spoke to ET’s Aveek Sen. Edited excerpts.
How long do you think it would take to come up with antiviral treatments and vaccines for Zika virus? It is hard to predict when the first vaccine will be licensed for use. Knowledge gained over the years from vaccine development of other flaviviruses should help expedite the process. Zika virus appears to have less diversity among its strains than we see for dengue, which makes it easier. But there are a lot of unknowns about the virus and therefore there could be unanticipated roadblocks on the way. The clinical testing of vaccines should begin shortly but it is a time intensive process.
Could you tell us a little about your team’s use of microscopy? We used an FEI Titan Krios cryo-electron micro- scope, equipped with a Gatan Direct Electron Detector (DED). The instrument, ancillary equipment and computing environment alone cost over $5 million dollars (not including the cost of a specialised room that houses the microscope). The DED was an addition to the microscope last year (investment of $600,000) and was instrumental in getting a high resolution structure of the virus. Our Purdue colleague Wen Jiang developed a specialised program, which was critical in improving resolution.
WHY PURDUE’S AHEAD Purdue’s cryo electron microscopy facility are leaders in it and so we were well positioned to move quickly on the Zika virus structure. DEVIKA SIROHI PhD Candidate, Purdue University
In India, there’s an unreasonable preference for engineering and MBBS. What would you like to advise students? Every field has it merits. Choice of career is a matter of personal preference and talents. I enjoy research because it gives an opportunity for advancing human knowledge and making a positive contribution to the world. To me, the joy of discovering something new is an unparalleled experience. Plus it gives you a great platform for exploring your curiosity, creativity and ideas.
What are the reasons that India hasn’t been the one researching on it or finding the structure of Zika virus? It depends on the research priorities of different nations and how funds are allocated. Purdue’s cryo electron microscopy facility are leaders in it and so we were well positioned to move quickly on the Zika virus structure.