NIH gives three grants to study mosquito-borne viruses for drug development
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has increased its budget for grants due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Deeply concerned about the health and safety of people, the NIH funds millions of grants to researchers to facilitate drug development. Nisha Duggal is one of these successful researchers, as she recently won three R21 grants worth $825,000 to develop medication and combat the transmission of mosquito-borne viruses.
Mosquitoes are among the most common vector for viruses. There has been a rich history of virus-based outbreaks, such as the Zika virus and the Dengue virus. The global emergence of mosquito-based viruses poses a potential threat to human health.
Host-parasite interactions and tackling strategies for mosquito-based viruses are complicated due to their broad host range and disease potential. With this funding, Nisha and her coworkers explore the pathogenesis of mosquito-based viruses and the transmission of viruses in birds and mosquitoes. They are also studying the sexual transmission of viruses in humans and predicting the future emergence of new diseases by West Nile virus, Usutu virus, Zika virus, and St. Louis encephalitis virus.
Key highlights of Nisha’s study involve:
- The West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the United States. The bite of infected mosquitoes spreads it, and no vaccine or medication is approved for this infection. Meanwhile, the Usutu virus is predominant in Europe. Despite its rarity, its incidence rates have been increasing in recent years and have been documented to cause severe neurological problems in humans. Nisha is trying to build a reverse genetic system to develop a vaccine that can be used for both viruses.
- Zika virus is known to cause serious health complications. Transmission of the Zika virus occurs from mother to fetus during pregnancy, blood transfusions, organ transplantations, and sexual contact. Nisha and her team are identifying the source of transmission during sexual contact and determining how to prevent it from occurring.
- St. Louis encephalitis virus is another virus that spreads from an infected mosquito’s bites. Most infections are asymptomatic, while other infections target the brain and the protective layers around it. No vaccine or medication is available to combat the disease. The researchers are working on identifying possible transmission pathways to understand the factors that affect the emergence of novel viruses.
With the help of NIH grant funding, Nisha is trying to uncover the mysteries in viral transmission, explore therapeutic options by employing viral genomes, and predict the emergence of viruses and variants in the future. NIH is determined to proactively tackle the health crisis that may hit the world in the future by supporting drug development.
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