Discovery shows existing drugs can treat virus
A team of researchers from Florida State University, Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health has found existing drug compounds that can both stop Zika from replicating in the body and from damaging the crucial fetal brain cells that lead to birth defects in newborns.
One of the drugs is already on the market as a treatment for tapeworm.
“We focused on compounds that have the shortest path to clinical use,” said FSU Professor of Biological Science Hengli Tang. “This is a first step toward a therapeutic that can stop transmission of this disease.”
Tang, along with Johns Hopkins Professors Guo-Li Ming and Hongjun Song and National Institutes of Health scientist Wei Zheng identified two different groups of compounds that could potentially be used to treat Zika — one that stops the virus from replicating and the other that stops the virus from killing fetal brain cells, also called neuroprogenitor cells.
One of the identified compounds is the basis for a drug called Nicolsamide, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved drug that showed no danger to pregnant women in animal studies. It is commonly used to treat tapeworm.
This could be prescribed by a doctor today, though tests are still needed to determine a specific treatment regimen for the infection.
Their work is outlined in an article published Monday by Nature Medicine.
Though the Zika virus was discovered in 1947, there was little known about how it worked and its potential health implications — especially among pregnant women — until an outbreak occurred in South America last year. In the United States, there have been 529 cases of pregnant women contracting Zika, though most of those are travel related. As of Aug. 24, there have been 42 of locally transmitted cases in Florida.
The virus, among other diseases, can cause microcephaly in fetuses leading them to be born with severe birth defects.
“It’s so dramatic and irreversible,” Tang said. “The probability of Zika-induced microcephaly occurring doesn’t appear to be that high, but when it does, the damage is horrible.”
Researchers around the world have been feverishly working to better understand the disease — which can be transmitted both by mosquito bite and through a sexual partner — and also to develop medical treatments.
Tang, Ming and Song first met in graduate school 20 years ago and got in contact in January because Tang, a virologist, had access to the virus and Ming and Song, neurologists, had cortical stem cells that scientists needed to test.
The group worked at a breakneck pace with researchers from Ming and Song’s lab, traveling back and forth between Baltimore and Tang’s lab in Tallahassee where they had infected the cells with the virus.
In early March, the group was the first team to show that Zika indeed caused cellular phenotypes consistent with microcephaly, a severe birth defect where babies are born with a much smaller head and brain than normal.
They immediately delved into follow-up work and teamed with NIH’s Zheng, an expert on drug compounds, to find potential treatments for the disease.
Researchers screened 6,000 compounds that were either already approved by the FDA or were in the process of a clinical trial because they could be made more quickly available to people infected by Zika.
“It takes years if not decades to develop a new drug,” Song said. “In this sort of global health emergency, we don’t have time. So instead of using new drugs, we chose to screen existing drugs. In this way, we hope to create a therapy much more quickly.”
All of the researchers are continuing the work on the compounds and hope to begin testing the drugs on animals infected with Zika in the near future.
Learn more: FSU research team makes Zika drug breakthrough
Using a genetic mapping technique developed at Florida State University, FSU and Cornell University researchers have shown that a small percentage of the entire maize genome is responsible for almost half of a plant’s trait diversity.
Hank Bass, associate professor of biological science at FSU, and Daniel Vera, director of the FSU Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine, combined their expertise in maize genome mapping with the statistical genomics expertise of colleagues at Cornell University, Eli Rodgers-Melnick and Ed Buckler. Together they found that a small portion of chromatin — the complex of DNA and its associated proteins — accounts for 40 percent of heritable trait diversity in maize.
That means a small portion of the chromatin holds a vast amount of information that accounts for traits such as plant size, shape, yield and stress response.
“What blew me away about this work is how informative this chromatin profiling technique is at mapping the functionally important part of the maize genome,” Bass said.
The research is published in the May 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Identifying this part of the genome greatly narrows the area that is examined for maize breeding and genomic editing, which may greatly accelerate the pace for crop improvement. This means growers might be able to more quickly target areas of the genome that could help them develop crops that are more drought resistant or durable in adverse environments.
“It allows us to start pinpointing the single base pair changes [small mutations] that are regulating or allowing plants to adapt to their environment,” Buckler said. “It helps us narrow down the hunt dramatically.”
The Florida State University (commonly referred to as Florida State or FSU) is a space-grant and sea-grant public research university located in the state capital city of Tallahassee, Florida, United States.
It is a comprehensive doctoral research university with medical programs and very high research activity as determined by the Carnegie Foundation. The university comprises 16 separate colleges and more than 110 centers, facilities, labs and institutes that offer more than 300 programs of study, including professional programs. Florida State is home to Florida’s only National Laboratory – the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and is the birthplace of the commercially viable anti-cancer drug Taxol. Florida State University also operates The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida and one of the largest museum/university complexes in the nation. Florida State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools as a Level VI public institution.
Florida State was established in 1851 and is located on the oldest continuous site of higher education in the state of Florida. In 1905 Florida State earned Florida’s first Rhodes Scholar. In 1935 Florida State University was awarded the first chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in Florida and is among the ten percent of American universities to have earned a chapter of the national academic honor society. In 1977 Florida State University earned the first female Rhodes Scholar in Florida. In 2010 Florida State University was named a “Budget Ivy” university by the Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College. In 2012 U.S. News & World Report ranked Florida State the most efficient National University in the United States. Florida State University is one of two Florida public universities to immediately qualify as a “preeminent university” by law under Florida Senate Bill 1076, signed by Governor Rick Scott in 2013.
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