Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera visited the Emerging Pathogens Institute Thursday to speak with an interdisciplinary team of experts on the Zika virus and other infectious diseases that threaten the state of Florida.
“Pathogens don’t respect national boarders,” said Dr. J. Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute. According to Morris, the institute’s international work helps it monitor diseases that may eventually enter the United States.
He also stressed the need for additional funds to support a small animal lab in EPI, an expansion he said is necessary given the number of ongoing projects by EPI members and collaborators.
Morris opened the session, followed by Dr. Rhoel Dinglasan, associate professor of infectious diseases in the College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. John Lednicky, an associate professor in the department of environmental and global health at the College of Public Health and Health Professions; Dr. Maureen Long, an associate professor in the department of infectious diseases and pathology at the College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Marco Salemi, an associate professor in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine in the College of Medicine; Dr. Derek Cummings, a professor of biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Dr. Ashley Brown, an assistant professor of medicine in the College of Medicine. All of the presenters are members of the institute.
Several presenters discussed disease transmission during an hour-long overview of EPI’s research on Zika virus. Both Morris and Salemi mentioned how the transportation of both goods and humans may accelerate Zika transmission since the mosquitoes can “hitch a ride” onto airplanes and container ships.
“Mosquitoes can’t fly across oceans,” Salemi said.
Cummings presented data showing that even within regions where Zika transmission is occurring, certain areas often have much higher local transmission rates than others.
Brown’s talk focused on sexual transmission and the work her lab is doing to find Zika antivirals. She is collaborating with Lednicky, who has a background in virology, to find mutations that may lead to resistance to antiviral therapies. Brown hopes to develop a drug regimen that will be effective in fighting the Zika virus while also mitigating the risk of antiviral resistance.
Both Brown and Long discussed experiments involving Zika. Brown will test how the virus interacts with antiviral therapies. Brown’s lab can mimic the chemical fluctuations that occur naturally when someone takes a drug, giving her lab members a better sense of how a drug might perform in a person infected with Zika virus.
Similarly, Long’s lab has created large animal models that it can use to extrapolate how Zika affects human fetuses.
Dinglasan spoke about his role as director of the CDC Southeastern Regional Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases, a center that collaborates with experts across Florida and the Southeast to research Zika, malaria, dengue, and other vector-borne diseases.
Dinglasan and Cummings both came to the university from Johns Hopkins under the Florida’s preeminence program, bringing with them expertise in a wide range of disciplines concerning infectious diseases.