Feevale University integrates a national research front to fight Zika virus (ZIKV). Through Chamada Prevenção e Combate ao vírus Zika, of SCTIE / MS, CNPq / MCTIC and Capes / MEC, research projects at universities throughout the country were selected to join efforts in scientific and technological research projects with a focus on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of virus infection and related diseases and in combating its vector, the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The institution, together with the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), will initiate research to learn more about ZIKV and test new drugs against infection.
The team is led by Fernando Spilki, Feevale University researcher, and is composed by Juliane Deise Fleck, Caroline Rigotto, Carolina Augusto Venker, Ana Luiza Ziulkoski and Sabrina Esteves de Matos Almeida, from Feevale, and Henri Stephan Schrekker from UFRGS. According to Spilki, through three main fronts, the project will seek to elucidate questions about the biology of ZIKV replication and its genetic diversity, as well as to test imidazole compounds as possible antivirals for the fight against virus infection. According to the professor, the research will be developed as follows:
1st front - It aims to understand a little more about the biology and replication of the virus in the cell. "We will use standard samples that we have, which were provided by fellow researchers, from African and Polynesian lineage, which is the one that is in Brazil," explains Spilki. By screening the target genes by microarray analysis and DNA sequencing, we intend to determine what happens in the cellular gene expression in the infection by this type of virus.
2nd front - Focuses on the genomic characterization of ZIKV. "Using next-generation sequencing, the intent is to try to sequence entire or nearly whole genomes of patient samples that were positive for Zika infection here in Rio Grande do Sul and samples that have been negative to the virus but with the same symptomatology," says the professor. By means of this analysis, we intend to characterize the transmission chains of ZIKV circulating in Brazil, especially in RS, to determine what modifications the virus may have undergone, and in cases where the symptoms were the same but in which the ZIKV was not detected, what other agent it could be.
3rd front: The third approach, conducted in partnership with UFRGS, will be an attempt to analyze imidazole compounds (kind of antifungal drugs), which already have proven activity against other microorganisms, in the sense of trying to prove if they have, also, antiviral activity. "In Molecular Microbiology and Cytotoxicity labs, the latter coordinated by Professor Ana Luiza Ziulkoski, the toxicity of the compounds in cell culture will be evaluated - to get an idea of their safety," explains Spilki. UFRGS laboratories will be in charge of the synthesis of the compounds. The different chemical compounds will be tested in cell assays for their ability to inhibit different phases of Zika virus replication.
According to Professor Spilki, there is a lot of work still to be done in the search of a new drug. "There are already tests of antivirals in the market, but there is a demand for new compounds that are safe for pregnant women. The problem with more traditional antivirals is that they also interfere with certain cellular functions, so they are especially dangerous to use when the fetus is developing. This is a challenge as well, generating new antivirals that are safer. "
The project had the contribution of more than R$ 100,000 in the Call MCTIC-CNPq / MEC-CAPES / MS-Decit / FNDCT Nº 14/2016 - Prevention and Fight against Zika virus. Feevale University will invest about R$ 70,000 in research.