Purdue researchers unveil Zika virus breakthrough

This January 2016 image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that has been linked in Brazil to a large number of cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect. Infants with microcephaly have smaller than normal heads and their brains do not develop properly. (Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC via AP)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — A Purdue University-led research team has made a major breakthrough with the Zika virus being the first to determine the structure of the virus.

Purdue researchers said determining the structure of the virus allows critical advances to the development of effective antiviral treatments and vaccines. They also identified areas where the virus differs from other flaviviruses, the family to which viruses like West Nile, dengue and yellow fever belong.

“The structure of the virus provides a map that shows potential regions of the virus that could be targeted by a therapeutic treatment, used to create an effective vaccine or to improve our ability to diagnose and distinguish Zika infection from that of other related viruses,” said Richard Kuhn, director of the Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases.

Kuhn led the research team with Michael Rossmann, Purdue’s Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences. Both men have studied flaviviruses for more than 14 years and were first to determine structures of both the dengue virus and West Nile virus, in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

“Determining the structure greatly advances our understanding of Zika — a virus about which little is known,” Kuhn stated in a release. “It illuminates the most promising areas for further testing and research to combat infection.”

The mosquito-borne Zika virus, present in 33 countries, has been associated with a birth defect that causes brain damage and an abnormally small head in babies born to mothers infected during pregnancy. It has also been linked with the autoimmune disease Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can lead to temporary paralysis.

“This breakthrough illustrates not only the importance of basic research to the betterment of human health, but also its nimbleness in quickly addressing a pressing global concern,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels stated in a release. “This talented team of researchers solved a very difficult puzzle in a remarkably short period of time, and have provided those working on developing vaccines and treatments to stop this virus a map to guide their way.”

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