Purdue Researchers Make Zika Virus Breakthrough

Posted: Updated:
Purdue researchers Richard Kuhn (pictured left) and Michael Rossmann (pictured right) led the team of researchers. Purdue researchers Richard Kuhn (pictured left) and Michael Rossmann (pictured right) led the team of researchers.

The director of the Purdue University Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases says his team of researchers has made a major breakthrough regarding the Zika virus. Richard Kuhn's team is the first to determine the structure of the virus, which he says will help to develop a treatment.

The team's findings were published in the journal Science. Kuhn says once they can see how the virus is put together, they can begin to see how a person's immune system reacts to it and how to develop vaccines and antiviral treatments.

"Most vaccines are done with very little knowledge of the physical structure of what they're looking for," says Kuhn. "Now we have a structure and we can really make, perhaps, better designer vaccines."

The Zika virus is part of a family of viruses called flaviviruses, which include dengue, West Nile and yellow fever, among others. The team was also able to identify parts of the Zika virus that differentiate it from the other flaviviruses. Kuhn says any unique features of Zika could explain how it is transmitted and becomes a disease.

Purdue says his team plans to conduct further testing to evaluate different parts of the virus as targets for treatment. Michael Rossman, distinguished professor of biological sciences at Purdue and Kuhn's partner, says the university's recent $250 million life sciences investment funded the purchase of advanced equipment that allowed the team to achieve certain accomplishments in a matter a months, rather than years.

"We were able to determine through cryo-electron microscopy the virus structure at a resolution that previously would only have been possible through X-ray crystallography," said Rossman. "Since the 1950s X-ray crystallography has been the standard method for determining the structure of viruses, but it requires a relatively large amount of virus, which isn’t always available; it can be very difficult to do, especially for viruses like Zika that have a lipid membrane and don’t organize accurately in a crystal; and it takes a long time. Now, we can do it through electron microscopy and view the virus in a more native state. This was unthinkable only a few years ago."

Zika virus is mosquito-borne and has been reported in 33 countries. The university says it has been associated with microcephaly, a birth defect that causes brain damage and abnormally small heads in babies born to mothers infected during pregnancy. It has also been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can lead to temporary paralysis.

"This breakthrough illustrates not only the importance of basic research to the betterment of human health, but also its nimbleness in quickly addressing a pressing global concern," said Purdue President Mitch Daniels. "This talented team of researchers solved a very difficult puzzle in a remarkably short period of time, and have provided those working on developing vaccines and treatments to stop this virus a map to guide their way."

The research was funded through an existing grant from the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to Kuhn, Rossman and collegues Michael Diamond and Daved Fremont at Washington University. The team also received an emergency supplement specifically for Zika research in February.

Kuhn explains the benefits of identifying the structure of the Zika virus.
  • Perspectives

    • How to Find a New Audience After Hitting a Marketing Plateau

      It may sound like a marketer’s dream scenario: efforts have proven to be so successful it appears a company has completely saturated their target audience. While it may be a good problem to have, it still may be a problem. Hitting a marketing plateau is an opportunity for companies in any industry to reevaluate, re-energize and come to the table with new ideas for better understanding existing customers and engaging new audiences.



  • Most Popular Stories

    • Shaina Keck

      Pier 48 Manager Named

      FK Restaurant Group has named Shaina Keck sales and banquet manager for Pier 48 Fish House and Bar in downtown Indianapolis. She previously served in sales at Kilroy's Bar & Grill. Keck is a graduate of Indiana University Kelly School of Business with a bachelor of science degree in finance and accounting with a concentration in international studies.  
    • (image courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana)

      Crews Start Demolition of Carson's in Hammond

      The face of downtown retail in Hammond is changing once again with the demolition of Carson’s department store, the one-time the anchor of Woodmar Mall. Our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana report excavating crews have started to demolish the last vestige of the shopping center which stood since the 1950s. 

    • (photo courtesy of WTHR-TV)

      Andrew Luck Retiring from NFL

      In a shocking development following the Indianapolis Colts' preseason loss to the Chicago Bears, quarterback Andrew Luck has announced his retirement from the NFL. Luck, who did not play in Saturday's game, said the number of injuries he has suffered throughout his professional career "has taken my joy of this game away." Luck teared up during a news conference in which he made his announcement. "After 2016 where I played in pain and was unable to regularly...

    • Alorica Inc. announces it will close its Lafayette office.

      Lafayette Call Center Closing; 147 to Lose Jobs

      A Lafayette call center is closing its doors, leaving 147 people without a job. California-based Alorica Inc. sent a letter Thursday to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, notifying the agency of the closure. The letter is required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.  

    • (Image courtesy of Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District)

      Michigan City Commits $12M to South Shore Track Project

      The Michigan City Common Council has formally committed to contribute $12 million towards the proposed $416 million Double Track project for the South Shore commuter line. Our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana report the council voted unanimously to pay $7 million upfront and finance the remaining $5 million through a 20-year bond issue.