Avian flu: $1.35 million grant to fund effort to better predict deadly outbreaks

July 01, 2015

An international research team led by Lukas Tamm of the University of Virginia School of Medicine will receive $1.35 million from the Human Frontier Science Program Organization to better understand how the influenza virus passes from birds to humans. This could lead to the creation of a new tool to predict the risk of outbreaks of potentially deadly avian flu.

The researchers will look at changes to the flu virus' envelope - the shell that lets it bind to and infect cells - as the virus adapts to different hosts. By better understanding this, scientists will be better able to determine the risk that a new virus could infect humans and potentially cause a pandemic.

"Previous research has mostly focused on changes in cell attachment and genome replication that are different between avian and human flu viruses, but our working hypothesis is that bird flu is subject to vastly different temperature and environment cycles upon transmission through the fecal-oral route than human flu, which is transmitted through aerosols and lung tissue," said Tamm, a PhD in UVA's Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics. "Our international team of investigators will test the temperature hypothesis of host adaptation by looking at viral envelope remodeling as bird flu strains adapt to human transmission conditions."

In bird flu's current form, humans can contract it only through direct contact with birds. In the wake of increasing human infections, however, some scientists fear that a virus could mutate and become transmissible from person to person, possibly resulting in a pandemic akin to the Spanish flu that killed more than 50 million people in the early 20th century.

To better understand how the virus adapts to new hosts, Tamm will bring his expertise in membranes to a team that includes structural biologist Kay Grünewald of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; virologist Michael Veit of Freie Universität Berlin in Germany; and biochemist Markus Wenk of the National University of Singapore.

Tamm's team will receive $450,000 each year for three years. It earned one of only 21 awards made from more than 900 applications. In evaluating Tamm's grant application, one reviewer commented, "The comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach here ... is innovative and highly professional."

The grant program aims to support cutting-edge research by fostering collaboration and enabling teams to bring together expertise from around the world. This year's awards went to labs in 24 different countries. For a full list of awards, visit http://www.hfsp.org/awardees/newly-awarded.

After three years, the researchers will report their findings to an annual meeting of the Human Frontier Science Program Organization, in addition to publishing their findings in scientific journals.

University of Virginia Health System

Related Bird Flu Articles from Brightsurf:

Researchers assess bird flu virus subtypes in China
The avian influenza virus subtype H16N3 is currently detectable in many countries.

What blocks bird flu in human cells?
Normally, bird flu viruses do not spread easily from person to person.

Gene-edited chicken cells resist bird flu virus in the lab
Scientists have used gene-editing techniques to stop the bird flu virus from spreading in chicken cells grown in the lab.

Bird flu shuffle probes viral compatibility
Emory scientists have been probing the RNA packaging factors that limit reassortment between avian H7N9/H5N8 strains and a well-known strain (H3N2) that has been dominating the last few human flu seasons in the United States.

New bird flu viruses in ducks after vaccines largely prevented H7N9 in chickens
In response to bird flu pandemics starting in 2013, officials in China introduced a new vaccine for chickens in September 2017.

Researchers are tracking pandemic potential of H7N9 bird flu in China
As of Oct. 5, a total of 1,562 laboratory-confirmed cases of H7N9 avian flu virus have been reported to the World Health Organization, with more people getting infected each year.

Scientists ID mutations that could allow bird flu strain to spread among humans
An international team of scientists has identified several genetic mutations that, should they arise, could potentially allow the avian influenza strain H7N9 to spread between humans.

Team uncovers cellular responses to bird flu vaccine
New research from Vanderbilt eavesdrops on gene expression in human immune system cells before and after vaccination against bird flu, exposing cellular responses associated with a vaccine constituent called AS03, short for adjuvant system 03.

Migration routes hold key to bird flu spread, global study finds
Monitoring the migration routes of wild birds could help to provide early warning of potential bird flu outbreaks, experts say.

Evidence of probable transmission of bird flu virus between two unrelated individuals
A study published by The BMJ today provides the first evidence of probable person to person transmission of avian influenza A (H7N9) virus between two unrelated individuals in a hospital in China.

Read More: Bird Flu News and Bird Flu Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.