A team from the University of Alberta is among three Canadian research groups awarded federal grants to study the Zika virus.
Cell biology professor Tom Hobman’s lab will get $500,000 over three years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), to further their investigation into how the virus changes host cells during infection, and spreads in fetal tissue.
Hobman will also try to understand why Zika can survive in humans for months. Other mosquito-borne viruses such as Dengue and West Nile are typically cleared out by the immune system in a week or two.
“By understanding the process, possibly one can develop some way to block persistence,” said Hobman. “Obviously the longer it can persist, the bigger the window of time in which the virus can be transmitted from person to person.”
“We are trying to develop a new diagnostic test for the Zika virus,” said postdoctoral fellow Daniel Limonta. “We are also testing new potential antivirals.”
There are currently no antiviral therapies or vaccines available for Zika.
Hobman’s team will work closely with a research group in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The other two Canadian teams awarded CIHR grants are headed by Keith Pardee and Beate Sander in Ontario.
To date, 481 cases of Zika have been detected in Canada. Most were travel-related, but the virus can be transmitted sexually. Zika is linked to severe birth defects.