The Scripps Research Institute announced on Thursday that the National Institutes of Health awarded $2.3 million to scientists at its Florida campus to study flaviviruses, which cause dengue fever, West Nile, yellow fever and other diseases spread by mosquitoes.
Falviviruses affect approximately 2.5 billion people across the globe and cause thousands of deaths every year. Effective treatments for the viruses do not exists and a handful of vaccines provide protection against only a few of the diseases.
TSRI Associate Professor Hyeryun Choe will lead the five-year study to understand the virus' mode of infection and the impact of new therapies.
"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."
When cells die from flavivirus infection, a lipid called phosphatidylserine is exposed and grabbed by the virus. The cell is then absorbed by phagocytes that devour pathogens and dying cells. The phagocytes are then transformed by the virus, forcing it to produce copies of the virus.
Choe said that understanding more about PS will offer opportunities to develop effective therapies and treatment.
"We want to understand which PS receptors contribute the most to flavivirus infections and how we might block them," Choe said. "Our studies are designed to offer insights useful in the development of new therapies."