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Zika virus discovery marks success of Purdue life sciences investment

West Lafayette, Ind., March 31, 2016 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Note to Journalists: A gallery of photos related to this news is available at http://purdue.photoshelter.com/gallery/Kuhn-Rossman-2016/G0000reQYNts7Abc. Images may be downloaded with the password “virus research.” An animation, video b-roll and sound bites from Rossmann and Kuhn are available at http://bit.ly/1XOdGdx. Interviews are available from our HD studio with a Vyvx connection upon request. In addition, interviews will be available via teleconference at 3:30 p.m. ET on Thursday (March 31). The call in number is 1-855-282-6330, access code: 29377040. No pin is needed. Please confirm participation in the teleconference by contacting Elizabeth Gardner, 765-494-2081,ekgardner@purdue.edu, or Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu

A team led by Purdue University researchers is the first to determine the structure of the Zika virus, which reveals insights critical to the development of effective antiviral treatments and vaccines.

The achievement also highlights results of the university’s recently announced $250 million investment in the life sciences.

“This breakthrough illustrates not only the importance of basic research to the betterment of human health, but also its nimbleness in quickly addressing a pressing global concern,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “This talented team of researchers solved a very difficult puzzle in a remarkably short period of time, and have provided those working on developing vaccines and treatments to stop this virus a map to guide their way.”

A paper detailing the team’s findings was published in the journal Science and marks the first published success of the new Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases in Purdue’s Discovery Park.

Purdue’s investment in the life sciences is coupled with the university’s new Pillars of Excellence in the Life Sciences Initiative. The Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Disease (PI4D), along with the Center for Integrative Neuroscience, were two “pillars” selected to amplify Purdue’s existing strengths and complement the Purdue Moves’Drug Discovery and Plant Sciences initiatives.

Advanced equipment allowed the team to do in a couple of months what would have otherwise taken years, said Michael Rossmann, Purdue’s Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, who led the research team with Richard Kuhn, head of Purdue’sDepartment of Biological Sciences and director of the Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases (PI4D).

A news release explaining the research findings and their significance is available at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2016/Q1/researchers-reveal-zika-virus-structure,-a-critical-advance-in-the-development-of-treatments.html.

The Pillars of Excellence initiative will enable high-impact, leading faculty hires as well as dozens of new positions across six colleges, advanced instrumentation purchases and shared research facilities that enhance the life sciences, said Suresh Garimella, Purdue executive vice president for research and partnerships. It is implemented as a partnership of pillar leadership teams and the offices of Purdue’s Executive Vice President for Research and Partnerships and Provost.Rossmann and Kuhn collaborated with Theodore Pierson, chief of the viral pathogenesis section of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases at the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Additional research team members include Purdue graduate student Devika Sirohi and postdoctoral research associates Zhenguo Chen, Lei Sun and Thomas Klose.

“This work illustrates what can be accomplished when talented researchers have access to advanced equipment and the resources necessary to immediately take action as an international threat to human health emerges,” Garimella said. “Professors Rossmann and Kuhn were the first to map the structure of any virus of this family when they determined the structure of dengue virus, then they were the first to determine the structure of West Nile and now they are the first to reveal the Zika virus structure. Because of their work and that of their talented teams, Purdue provided a critical contribution to the effort to prevent or treat Zika virus infection. Supporting such research is the intent of Purdue’s investment in the life sciences.”

Faculty led the process of proposing and determining Purdue’s Pillars of Excellence, said Deba Dutta, Purdue provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity.

“Faculty determined the best ways to amplify Purdue’s existing strengths to enable life sciences research at the highest level and with the greatest impact on human lives,” Dutta said. “We listened when faculty proposed these areas of focus and we heard them when they told us what they needed to best do their work. This success is an example of how that strategy results in science that enables a global effort to reduce human suffering and save lives.”

Purdue Moves is an initiative designed to broaden the university's global impact and enhance educational opportunities for its students. All of the moves fall into four broad categories: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) leadership; world-changing research; transformative education; and affordability and accessibility.

Related news releases:

Purdue makes major new investments in the life sciences

Purdue to invest more than $250 million in life sciences over next 5 years

Purdue breaks ground on Hockmeyer Hall

Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu

Source:Purdue Research Foundation