What began as a summer internship project designed for an undergraduate student evolved into a one-year study of one of the deadliest, but little known viruses. Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have now solved the structure of a key protein in the Nipah virus, which could pave the way for the development of a much-needed antiviral drug.
"This structure shows how key pieces of the virus's machinery are oriented and tethered together," said TSRI Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire, senior author of the study. "This is part of a larger program to illuminate how these deadly viruses replicate."
The Nipah virus is an emerging pathogen found in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, Bangladesh and India. The first outbreak was in 1997, followed by yearly outbreaks since then, with increasing mortality rates.
Carried by the flying fruit bat, the virus causes only mild illness in pigs, dogs, cats, horses, goats and sheep, which also spread the disease. But in humans, lethality has ranged from an initial 40 percent to 70 and, in some cases, even 100 percent. There are no therapeutics for the virus and no vaccines for humans.
"It's the scariest virus you've never heard of," said Jessica Bruhn, a graduate student in TSRI Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire's lab, noting that the movie Contagion, a medical thriller that came out in 2011, is based on outbreaks of the Nipah virus.
Hot on the Trail
Bruhn, first author of the new study, which was published recently online ahead of print by the Journal of Virology, initially designed this study as a summer project in 2012 for Katherine Barnett, then an undergraduate student in the SINAPSE program and also a co-author of the paper.
Bruhn and Barnett helped launch the work cloning the genes and working on the data. Barnett left to attend graduate school at Harvard University and Bruhn and colleagues continued working on the project, focusing
|Contact: Mika Ono|
Scripps Research Institute