Clin­i­cal Test­ing of Zika Vac­cine will Be­gin Soon

The Economic Times - - Disruption: -

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.

Devika Sirohi,

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