NIH funds $18.13 million study on Ebola, West Nile and flu viruses

The U.S. National Institutes of Health will fund an $18.13 million study related to the lethal qualities of viruses such as Ebola, West Nile and influenza, the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced on Thursday. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor at the university's School of Veterinary Medicine, will lead the study. Kawaoka and teams from Washington University in St. Louis and the Richland, Wash.-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will comprehensively model how humans respond to viral pathogens. The goal of the study is to develop a detailed molecular understanding of what occurs when deadly viruses infect their hosts. The findings could result in a new generation of drugs to fight infection by the world's most lethal pathogens. "When an animal is infected with a virus, all kinds of things happen during the course of infection, so the host response is a very important component of the study," Kawaoka said. The researchers will measure many parameters of viral infection using high-throughput screening to make thousands of measurements in a single experiment. The scientists will then use the data to model what happens during the infection, make predictions about the causes of disease and conduct tests in animal models. There are currently no antiviral agents approved for use against West Nile and Ebola viruses. Currently available drugs for treating the influenza virus may be losing their effectiveness as the virus adapts. "By understanding the disease process and understanding the host response, we can identify new targets for drug development," Kawaoka said. "It is necessary that we find new agents to protect us from these diseases."