The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease of the National Institutes of Health has awarded $18 million over seven years to Colorado State University’s Arthropod-borne Infectious Disease Laboratory and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston for the study of emerging viral diseases, including several thought to be potential bioterrorist weapons.
Barry Beaty, a microbiologist and former director of the Arthropod-borne Infectious Disease Laboratory at Colorado State University, and Robert B. Tesh, M.D. and professor of pathology at UTMB, have formed an Emerging Virus Disease Unit, comprised to two multidisciplinary research teams to explore questions surrounding these potentially deadly viruses.
A unique and important feature of this EVDU is the flexibility and rapid response of the unit, as a whole, should a sudden threat to public health emerge. In that situation, whether the threat is natural or man-made, the EVDU will immediately re-direct their research efforts to focus on the new threat.
The viruses named for research include the West Nile virus, dengue fever, St. Louis encephalitis viruses, Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, LaCrosse encephalitis and related California group viruses, hantaviruses such as Sin Nombre virus and Rift Valley fever and related viruses.
"This Emerging Virus Disease Unit brings together some of the finest minds and the extensive expertise in the fields of emerging viral diseases," said Beaty, University Distinguished Professor. "The scientists at UTMB are experts in human medicine and known for their work in designing animal model systems for understanding the pathogenesis of these diseases, developing new vaccines and diagnostics, investigating these pathogens in their natural settings and for their capacity to provide training to human medical doctors, researchers and graduate students."
"We are noted for our work on insect vectors, arthropod-borne and rodent-borne viruses, and we are also a veterinary school and can provide training to veterinary medical experts, Ph.D. researchers, graduates and undergraduates. Since the new threats to public health require a strong collaboration between human medical doctors, veterinary medical doctors and scientists, NIH viewed this as a very, very strong proposal."
The overall EVDU is comprised of seven field-and laboratory-based research projects. The seven projects range from developing new vaccines and diagnostic techniques to developing ways to predict and control emerging virus diseases, to using densoviruses, which are unique to mosquitoes, to control mosquito populations and disease transmission.
"Our part of the project is to find new ways to control vector-borne diseases, and discover how certain viruses develop and survive through different seasons and emerge to cause human diseases," Beaty said. "We’ll also be determining what vectors are found around our airports and ports of entry, which will permit timely notice of introduction of new vectors and perhaps news diseases into the United States."
At Colorado State, Beaty has brought together a team of world-class scientists from across the different colleges as well as across departments in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. These experts represent the best in their various fields, and the laboratory facilities at Colorado State meet the same world-class standards. The Arthropod-borne Infectious Disease Laboratory, part of the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology in the CVMBS, is internationally renowned for the research conducted there as well as the collaborative research conducted with the Center for Disease Control-Division of Vector-borne Infectious Diseases research facility in Fort Collins and the USDA-Arthropod-borne Animal Disease Research Laboratory in Laramie, Wyo.
"AIDL, with its facilities and scientific staff and collaborators is unique-which is why we can undertake a research project such as this," Beaty said. "This is truly a team effort, with investigators from a number of departments at Colorado State."
Project leaders and research areas include: Jon Carlson and Ken Olson, in the department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, will lead an effort to develop new ways to control mosquito populations, focusing on Aedes aegypti, the vector of dengue and yellow fever viruses. Carol Blair, also in MIP and Richard Bowen, in Biomedical Sciences, will lead a program to provide new information about how West Nile and related viruses infect and replicate in hosts, how they cause disease, how they are transported throughout the world and which vectors will be capable of transmitting the viruses. Also assisting in this project are Joel Hutcheson, with Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, and Chet Moore, Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. William Black and Charles Calisher will focus on determining how Hantaviruses infect and are transmitted by rodent hosts and the potential for Aedes Albopictus, the Asian Tiger mosquito that was recently introduced into the United States to serve as a vector of LaCrosse encephalitis virus, which could become the next major public health threat in the southern United States.
The UTMB team will take the lead on the NIH contract and will focus on the first four projects, looking into the ecology of St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile viruses in the Houston metropolitan area; researching animal models for studying the pathogenesis, diagnosis treatment and prevention of viral hemorrhagic fevers; the genetic structure of and the implications for their diagnosis, pathogenesis and emergence; and the emergence of Venezuelan equine encephalitis in North America.