During assembly on Friday, September 2, JBS parent and Wash U School of Medicine professor Dr. Daved Fremont spoke about the Zika virus – its emergence in human pathology, how it is transmitted, and how he and many others are working to find effective antibodies.
Fremont’s presentation was introduced as the first in our STEM Speakers Series by Martha Keeley (science, STEM liaison). Using the 15 global challenges identified by the independent, non-profit Millennium Project, Keeley decided to start the series with a focus on health, specifically infectious diseases such as the Zika virus. She turned to Fremont who has collaborated on groundbreaking work identifying antibodies capable of protecting against the Zika virus. Senior AP Biology student Jordan Bow shared Fremont’s credentials ~ see end.
Fremont began with a question: What is the world’s most deadly animal? And the answer was/is: the mosquito, which kills nearly 725,000 people annually. He said the Zika was originally identified in 1947 in Uganda when researchers realized a sick rhesus monkey was infected with an unknown virus – a virus that eventually was named for the Zika Forest in Uganda. The first human case was documented in Nigeria in 1960, and, between then and the mid70s, only 14 cases in Africa were documented. In 2007, an island in Micronesia experienced a complete infestation. The Zika found its way to the Americas in 2014, but the causal link between Zika and microcephaly was not firmly established until January 2016. Now the Zika virus has moved from Brazil to Central America to Puerto Rico and Florida.
Fremont explained that transmission is primarily through a mosquito bite but maternal transmission, sexual transmission as well as blood transfusion, organ and tissue transplants, fertility treatments and lab exposure are possible avenues. Eighty percent of those infected are asymptomatic. Most of those who develop symptoms (fever, joint pain, red eyes) only feel them for a few days. However, it is now clear that in rare cases the Zika virus can lead to neurological disorders and, in the case of maternal transmission, it can lead to severe congenital abnormalities.
Zika, he said, belongs to a family of viruses – the flaviviruses – which Wash U is studying. Specifically, researchers there are developing antibodies both as research and medical tools. Thus far, they have developed two antibodies, ZV54 and ZV67, which when given to mice at the same time as the Zika virus provide very effective treatment.
These scientists are working to develop human antibodies that protect against the Zika virus, improved serum diagnostics of the Zika infection and ultimately vaccines.
Dr. Daved Fremont
Professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in the Departments of Pathology & Immunology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, and Molecular Microbiology
Director of the Computational and Molecular Biophysics Program
Principal Investigator at the Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Disease
PhD in Biochemistry at the University of California - San Diego
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University in New York