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GSU advances research into fighting Zika virus; Dengue epidemic re-emerges


Researchers at Georgia State University have found a promising path to fight the Zika virus by increasing the body's natural production of an antioxidant. Credit: gsu.edu

By David Pendered

Researchers at Georgia State University appear to have made a breakthrough in the potential to harness the body’s innate defenses to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus – a disease with no known treatment or vaccine.

zika, map cdc

There were no known outbreaks of the Zika virus anywhere in the world, according to this March 27 report, the latest available, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Credit: cdc.gov

Zika remains a major global public health threat, though it has all but fallen from discussion since the World Health Organization declared it a, “2016 public health emergency of international concern.” The same is true of dengue, another mosquito-borne disease with an outbreak in the same period – which has reappeared.

Just yesterday, the Pan American Health Organization issued a warning about another epideimic of dengue emerging in the Caribbean and Latin America:

  • “[D]uring the first 7 months of 2019, more than 2 million people contracted the disease and 723 died. The number of cases exceeds the total number of cases reported in 2017 and 2018, although so far, it remains lower than the number recorded in 2015-2016.”

Dengue’s effects are most prevalent among youngsters under 15 years. Guatemalan youngsters account for 52 percent of total cases of severe dengue and Honduran youngsters account for 66 percent of all confirmed deaths, according to the report.

Georgia State’s research into Zika has tremendous implications for potentially curbing the deadly disease.

The project was led by Julia Hilliard, a professor and Georgia Research Alliance eminent scholar, and Mugdha Vasireddi, a research scientist, according to a statement from Georgia State released Thursday. GRA funding supported the research and results are so promising the researchers intend to seek grant funding to continue the work.

Here’s how the researchers described the Zika situation as a threat to public health in their Jan. 19 report in the scientific journal Antiviral Research:


Researchers at Georgia State University have found a promising path to fight the Zika virus by increasing the body’s natural production of an antioxidant. Credit: gsu.edu

  • “Zika virus infection is an enormous global concern because of its destructive effect on human health and wellbeing in mosquito-infested regions…. During 2015–2016, at least three global outbreaks were recognized by WHO [World Health Organization…. The socio-economic impact of this arthropod-borne infection has been enormous, particularly due to its devastating effects on the fetus during pregnancy, and the demonstration that the virus persists in retinal cells, semen, and genitalia.”

The GSU research into Zika has determined that the replication of the virus can be impeded by a cocktail comprised of three amino acids.

The treatment prompts cells to increase production of an antioxidant, glutathione, within cells, according to a statement released Thursday. HIV is among the viruses that have been shown to be adversely impacted by the presence of glutathione within cells, according to the statement.

Here’s how researchers described the work in Antiviral Research:

  • “It is also the first report, to our knowledge, that demonstrates the free-form amino acids formulation provided by [the amino acid cocktail] reduces Zika virus replication up to 90 percent at doses that are completely safe for cells.”

The report noted that previous research has pointed to similar conclusions. However, the project at Georgia State provides evidence of the cocktail as advancing the work into the effect on cellular production of the antioxidant glutathione. The cocktail consists of what the GSU statement describes as, “three free-form amino acids (FFAAP)—cystine, glycine and glutamate, as well as a minute amount of selenium.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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