Current News

Dr. Dennis Bente Introduces Gamification to M&I Graduate Program
UTMB Health, October 11, 2016

Dennis Bente, DVM, PhD, of UTMB's Department of Microbiology & Immunology has organized a new elective course, titled "Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Simulation," which utilizes gamification techniques to introduce students to the experience of responding to an infectious disease outbreak. View the video below to learn more about this innovative new educational opportunity.

UTMB researchers develop new candidate vaccines against the plague
NPJ Vaccines, October 10, 2016

The plague of Black Death infamy has had the power to strike fear in people since the Middle Ages — and for good reason. Once someone begins to show symptoms, the disease progresses very quickly and is almost 100 percent fatal without prompt treatment. The World Health Organization has categorized the bacteria responsible for plague, Yersinia pestis, as a re-emerging pathogen because of the rising number of human plague cases globally. The bacteria cause three different kinds of plague, bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic.

“The optimal strategy for protecting people and animals against this deadly disease would be through vaccination, but there are no FDA-licensed plague vaccines available in the U.S.,” said Ashok Chopra, UTMB professor of microbiology and immunology. “We’ve been working to develop a vaccine that will generate long-term immunity and protection against the plague.”

Overall, all three of the new possible vaccines stimulated long-lasting immune responses capable of protecting animals from developing the pneumonic plague as late as four to five months after vaccination.

“In addition to how well a vaccine works to protect against disease, safety is another important aspect for vaccine development,” said Chopra. "We have shown that our mutants (versions of the bacteria) are safe vaccine candidates as our detailed analyses showed no sign of damage to bodily tissues in the vaccinated animals."

UTMB Researchers Protect Against Lethal Ebola Sudan Infection Four Days After Infection
Technobahn, August 22, 2016

UTMB researchers have successfully tested a new antiviral drug that was able to protect nonhuman primates infected with Ebola Sudan. "This is a key step in our efforts to protect people from this terrible, lethal disease," said UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert. This news also reported in Medical Xpress, Med India and World News Report.
Zika Took Her Baby. She Doesn't Want It to Happen to You
The News & Observer, August 22, 2016

Zika remains a concern, especially as the virus continues to spread in Florida through locally acquired cases. UTMB’s Scott Weaver has been interviewed by numerous outlets about the virus, how it spreads and ways for people to prevent mosquito bites. "The one message that doesn't get out very often is even if you travel to an affected area and you are not at high risk like a pregnant woman and her partner, you can really have a significant impact on public health by protecting yourself from mosquito bites after you get back," Weaver told NBC News. This news was also reported in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Bend Bulletin, Hue Wire, The Villages Suntimes, TVN, KWWL and WXXV25.
First direct evidence shows A aegypti mosquito transmits Zika
The Free Press Journal, July 25, 2016

Scientists have for the first time directly connected the Aedes aegypti mosquito with transmission of the Zika virus in the Americas. The findings may help researchers to better target efforts for controlling the population of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, which has been linked to serious birth defects. Last year, the first Zika infections were described in Brazil, harbingers of an explosive hemispheric epidemic..

"Because several experimental studies have suggested that A aegypti is not highly susceptible to Zika virus infection and there has been a lack of direct evidence of A aegypti infection during outbreaks, some scientists have speculated that other common tropical urban mosquitoes such as Culex quinquefasciatus could be involved," said Scott Weaver, professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB).

"We sought to more directly investigate which mosquito is responsible for spreading Zika virus so that we can selectively tailor our mosquito control efforts to a specific mosquito species' habits," said Weaver. The signs and symptoms of Zika infection are similar to the mosquito-borne diseases chikungunya and dengue.

"Our study indicates that A aegypti was the principal carrier of Zika virus in the Tapachula area of Chiapas State, based on the detection of virus in several mosquito pools and the prior demonstrated transmission competence of this species of mosquito," said Weaver. "It's important to note that Zika was not found in C quinquefasciatus, another common urban tropical mosquito discussed as a potential Zika vector," he said.

Limiting travel, controlling mosquitoes reduces Zika risk
Reuters Health, July 13, 2016

To limit mosquito-borne illnesses, including the Zika virus, plan travel carefully, take personal protective measures, and control mosquitoes in and around the home, experts recommend.

In most adults, Zika produces no symptoms or only mild symptoms like fever and rash. But children of women infected in pregnancy may be born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, which can be linked to seizures, intellectual disability, hearing loss or vision problems, and has no cure.

Zika's potential for sexual transmission makes it unique, experts say.

"Men who are infected are infectious for at least three months," said Scott C. Weaver, scientific director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

"Sexual partners of pregnant women may get infected and may not even realize it," Weaver told Reuters Health by phone. "Zika is very mild compared to severe dengue or any case of chikungunya."

The CDC advises that anyone potentially exposed to Zika should limit the risk of sexual transmission through abstinence or correct use of condoms.

Traveling this summer? What to know about the Zika virus
The News & Observer, July 6, 2016

This article aims to inform readers about Zika, how it is spread, who is at risk and what preventative measures to take. UTMB's Scott Weaver is quoted in the story: "If you wanted to design the ideal vector to spread disease in humans, you couldn't get much better than Aedes aegypti."
How Zika spiraled out of control
Scientific American, May 24, 2016

The world's biggest collection of Zika virus is housed in a tan concrete building, rising up from the flat campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch here in Galveston. Inside, armed guards watch the lobby, and access to certain floors requires special clearance. These safeguards are in place because other viruses, including those that cause Ebola and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), are also on the premises.

Galveston is an ideal place to tackle this inside versus outside debate because the Medical Branch research center is home to the massive World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses. (The latter are viruses carried by ticks, mosquitoes or other arthropods.) The collection includes more than 7,000 pathogens. Investigators also have a variety of specialized resources for testing virus infectivity in various bugs and animals, sequencing viral genes and imaging pathogen structures.

Study: Answer to antibiotic-resistant infections could already be on the market
UTMB Newsroom, Apr. 25, 2016

While antibiotics have been highly effective at treating infectious diseases, infectious bacteria have adapted to them and antibiotics have become less effective, according to the Centers for disease Control and Prevention. About 2 million people in the United States are infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria every year and at least 23,000 die, according to the CDC.

Antibiotic resistance is increasing due to the over prescription of antibiotics, said Ashok Chopra, a professor at UTMB and author of the new study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. But the solution could lie with drugs originally meant for other uses that, until now, no one knew could also help combat bacterial infections.

Researchers have developed successful new treatment against the deadly Junin virus
UTMB Newsroom, Apr. 4, 2016

A team of researchers have made a discovery that could lead to the development of treatment for a deadly virus spread by rodents.

An interdisciplinary research team from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.; the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Austria, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Integrated BioTherapeutics, Inc. and the Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Virales Humanas in Argentina reports that a laboratory-engineered antibody provided complete protection against the deadly Junin virus.

Virus profilers race to figure out what makes Zika tick
NPR, Feb. 9, 2016

Zika virus was discovered back in 1947, but until recently, almost no one studied it. If you type "Zika" into a searchable database of grants from the National Institutes of Health, just one name pops up: Scott Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Scientific discovery a possible game changer in treatment of flesh-eating bacteria and other illnesses
UTMB Newsroom, Jan. 25, 2016

Scientists recently discovered different strains of deadly flesh-eating bacteria working together to spread infection and they now have a better understanding of the role of the toxins they produce. The discovery could change how the illness and other diseases are treated.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by Ashok Chopra, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in partnership with the Federal Drug Administration, CosmosID Inc., the University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University. The findings are considered a positive step towards development of life-saving therapeutics to treat patients.