UF Emerging Pathogens Institute shares in 7 million euro grant to research Zika virus

A European Union research commission will award the Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI) at the University of Florida nearly 1 million euros as part of a grant supporting interdisciplinary research on the Zika virus and its effects on pregnancy.

Logistics to obtain the funding have been under way for several months, and the official announcement comes less than a month after the U.S. Congress agreed to commit funds toward combatting Zika.

The UF team is comprised of experts from several disciplines and makes up one part of an international research effort called the “ZIKAction consortium,” coordinated by the PENTA Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Italy. The consortium will receive a 7 million euro, five-year grant from the EU through its Horizon 2020 program, which recently dedicated a total of 45 million euros to Zika research.

One factor that facilitated the EPI team’s participation in the project is that EPI faculty member Ilaria Capua, D.V.M., is a former Parliament member in Italy and has worked extensively with the PENTA Foundation, which was founded to combat pediatric AIDS but now additionally supports research efforts focused on other infectious diseases.

able to put UF in contact with PENTA and the other partners,” Capua said.

Grantees hail from 14 institutions in eight countries and will work together to find out more about the risks associated with Zika virus and the threat it poses to the global community.

The University of Florida is the only American university to participate in the grant.

Building on UF’s strong existing Zika research program, EPI faculty members will work with Haitian investigators to identify and monitor pregnant women in Haiti who become infected with the Zika virus. The study will also monitor infants born to mothers infected with Zika virus; infants will be monitored for multiple years, to not only identify problems at birth, but also to see what health problems may emerge over time.

The three clinics taking part in the study see approximately 1,500 women per year, and are located in the Gressier region, of Port-au-Prince.

“The sophisticated epidemiologic and laboratory capabilities at the Emerging Pathogens Institute allow us to track the spread of the virus and study its long-term impact on mothers and their children,” said Dr. J. Glenn Morris, M.D., M.P.H., a professor in the UF College of Medicine’s Department of Medicine and EPI director.

In Florida, research team members with the UF College of Veterinary Medicine team will develop models to how Zika infects fetuses via transmission from the .

“I hope to establish a mechanism where we can look at the interactions between the virus, the maternal immune system and the developing fetus,” said Dr. Maureen Long, D.V.M., Ph.D., an associate professor in the college’s department of infectious diseases and pathology and an EPI faculty member.

Written by: Evan Barton