FGCU Researchers Working to Combat Zika
Researchers at Florida Gulf Coast University are working to develop an antiviral treatment for Zika based on their work combatting another closely related virus that’s spread by mosquitos.
Virologists and FGCU biology professors Sharon Isern and Scott Michael have been working to combat the dengue fever virus since 2004. They’ve patented antiviral treatments for Dengue that they’re looking to see advance to human trials and they’re also working to develop a dengue vaccine. Now they’re using what they’ve learned about Dengue to develop antivirals to combat Zika.
“Dengue and Zika virus are both of the Flavivirus family. They’re like cousins to each other,” said Isern. “So anything that we have learned with Dengue, we can readily apply it to Zika. Zika for the longest time has been understudied because it hasn’t really done much until recently.”
Isern and Michael are a step ahead when it comes to researchers around the nation also looking to tackle Zika. “All of the sudden the correlated Zika incidents with microcephaly in infants in Brazil came up and I want to say that’s when many of our colleagues started to think about Zika, whereas we were thinking about Zika from before in terms of determining when it was going to make it to Florida,” said Isern.
Isern and Michael are growing Zika in their lab at FGCU. “We have developed tests to basically be able to determine whether or not something that you add to the virus can inhibit the growth of the virus and these are called virus inhibition assays,” said Isern. “And we have those up and running in the lab and currently testing the antiviral treatments for Dengue with Zika.”
Results so far are very preliminary, but promising. In addition to the treatments they hope to develop and learning more about the biology of the Zika virus, the research effort is also providing experience for undergraduate students at FGCU. “It’s all undergraduates,” said Isern, “and they’re working in the capacity of more experienced students in other institutions.”
The number of confirmed cases of Zika in Florida continues to grow. Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong announced Thursday 6 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 58 including the first sexually transmitted case in Polk County announced earlier this week.
The majority of Zika cases have been reported in Miami-Dade County. Lee County has had three cases. Four of the reported Zika cases state-wide have been pregnant women. All of Florida’s cases so far have been related to people traveling to Zika affected areas, but Isern says it’s only a matter of time before the virus becomes endemic in Florida’s mosquito population.