Haoquan Wu, Ph.D., has received a two-year, $420,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) to study Enterovirus 71 (EV71), a relatively new virus that has been compared to polio.
EV71 is considered the second-most important enterovirus after polio because of its similar ability to cause paralysis in young children. In recent years, several severe outbreaks of the virus have been reported worldwide, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
In 2012, the virus killed more than 60 children in Cambodia and less than a year later, caused neurological complications in about 30 children in Australia.
“The importance of this virus has not been recognized yet by the scientific community,” says Wu, a biomedical scientist at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). “Little research has been dedicated to EV71; consequently, it is not well understood and no effective treatment exists.”
With the NIAID grant, Wu and colleagues will be try to determine which human genes enable the virus to attack and kill human cells. To do this, Wu will conduct a genome-wide knockout screening — specifically knocking out, or deactivating, each gene in the human genome — using the process of elimination to identify the genes involved.
“By deactivating one gene at a time, we hope to understand how the virus takes advantage of certain properties of human cells to aid the virus in multiplying and ultimately destroying our cells,” says Wu. “With this information we then could develop specific and effective treatments to stop the illnesses caused by EV71.”
The TTUHSC El Paso team plans to use CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that allows scientists to deactivate genes, to conduct their work.