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Scripps Florida scientist awarded $2.3 million to study dengue fever and related viruses
Date:3/27/2014

JUPITER, FL March 27, 2014 The outbreak of dengue fever that infected some 20 people in Florida's Martin County late last year unnerved many who feared the tropical disease had once again established a foothold in Florida. The last outbreaks occurred in 2009 and 2010 in Key Westbefore that, the disease hadn't struck Florida in more than 70 years.

Now, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have been awarded $2.3 million to study a category of viruses that cause dengue fever, West Nile, yellow fever and other diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks. These diseases can result in flulike symptoms, extreme pain (dengue has been called "bone-break fever") and, in some cases, encephalitis.

This family of viruses, called "flavivirus," affect some 2.5 billion people worldwide and cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. There are no antiviral treatments and a just handful of vaccines that provide protection against only a few of these diseases.

The principal investigator for the new five-year study is TSRI Associate Professor Hyeryun Choe, who will lead the effort to understand the virus's mode of infection and how new therapies might interrupt it.

"Flavivirus uses a very clever method of infection," Choe said. "It's like using a side door to enter a house when the front door is locked."

The viruses take advantage of the process that normally occurs during programmed cell death. During programmed cell death ("apoptosis"), a lipid usually found on the inner side of the cell membranes, specifically phosphatidylserine (PS), shifts to the surface, making itself readily available to any passing cellular stranger. This is where the trouble begins.

When cells are dying from a flavivirus infection, their freshly exposed PS is grabbed by the exiting virus, and phagocytescells that devour invading pathogens and dead and dying cellsengulf the virus as if it were a dying cell. O
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Contact: Mika Ono
mikaono@scripps.edu
858-784-2052
Scripps Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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