It is spread to humans by mosquito bites, causing arthritic symptoms so severe that some victims can't even walk. While rarely fatal, the effects of the chikungunya virus can last up to a year.
More than two million people have contracted the chikungunya virus in the past five years. Most of the infections have occurred in Southeast Asia, but infectious disease experts consider its spread to the United States likely because of global travel.
With no vaccine available for this debilitating virus, federal health and security officials have targeted it as a possible bioterrorism agent.
Groups around the world are working to develop a vaccine, including a regional team that involves Navin Varadarajan, a University of Houston engineering professor who is working on developing a new method of testing potential vaccines for the chikungunya virus.
Varadarajan, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH, received a two-year, $361,000 grant administered by the Western Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research and funded by the National Institutes of Health. He is partnering with researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and Tulane University.
"What we are looking to study and characterize is a vaccine-induced immunity," Varadarajan said. "If I have a tube of blood from a vaccinated subject, how do we determine the effectiveness of the vaccine?" Like many vaccines, the ones being developed by the UTMB-Tulane group attack chikungunya in several ways.
Varadarajan is testing the ability of potential vaccines to spur the immune system to attack human cells that essentially have been taken over by the virus and become reservoirs for it to multiply.
When this occurs, the immune system produces CD8 T-cells that kill the co-opted cells. However, each CD8 T-cell is programmed to fight one particular disease. Ideally, the vaccines being tested will spur the
|Contact: Laura Tolley|
University of Houston