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May 12, 2016
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

Upstate awarded nearly $200K for Zika virus research

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— An Upstate Medical University research project that will lead to a greater understanding of how to control the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika and Dengue viruses is among nine projects in the nation to collectively receive $1.7 million in rapid response, or RAPID, grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Upstate project is being conducted through the Center for Global Health & Translational Science (CGHTS).

Findings from the Upstate project can also help public health officials develop an early warning system that incorporates climate and non-climate information on Zika and Dengue transmission.

The grants are provided through the NSF Division of Environmental Biology’s Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases EEID Program. The program funds the development and testing of predictive models, and discovery of the principles governing the transmission dynamics of infectious diseases such as Zika.

The NSF funding was announced locally by U. S. Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

“This desperately needed federal funding will allow the global health leaders at SUNY Upstate, who are ready to assist, look at ways we can stymie the spread of this tragic disease,” said Schumer.

“The imminent threat of Zika to the United States is deeply troubling; this funding through the National Science Foundation would facilitate much needed resources to help advance SUNY Upstate Medical University’s research into how to prevent the spread of the Zika Virus,” said Gillibrand, who is an original co-sponsor of legislation to provide an additional $1.9 billion federal investment in combating the Zika virus.

Upstate’s study, which received nearly $200,000 in funding, is led by Anna Stewart Ibarra, PhD, MPA, a faculty member in the Department of Medicine and the director of the Latin America Research Program at Upstate’s Center for Global Health & Translational Science.

“Upstate’s Center for Global Health and Translational Research has been studying outbreaks of Dengue-like infections in Ecuador for several years,” said David C. Amberg, PhD, Upstate’s vice president for research. “Dr. Stewart Ibarra’s research team is uniquely positioned in Ecuador to study the Zika epidemic as it spreads to a new country and to address many of the things we don’t understand about Zika.”

The NSF grant will build upon Stewart Ibarra’s studies into the ecology of infectious diseases. She has been working in Ecuador for the last nine years and her research includes studies on the environmental and socio-political drivers of the transmission of dengue fever in coastal Ecuador, where dengue is hyper-endemic. She has been based in Ecuador since last fall working with her partners to develop a prototype for a new device to specifically attract and kill Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that serve as vectors, or transmitters, of Zika and dengue viruses, among others.

“This RAPID award will allow us to determine the prevalence of the Zika and dengue virus co-infections in humans and mosquitoes, household climatic factors affecting disease transmission, and which other species of mosquitoes might transmit Zika,” said Stewart Ibarra. “Our findings will help fill in gaps to our knowledge about pathogen levels in the blood for a particular part of the human population, infection rates, co-infection between Zika and dengue in both humans and mosquitoes, and what other mosquitoes are able to transmit Zika.”

Data collected from the study, combined with mosquito control interventions by the government and individual households, and information on socio-ecological conditions, will be incorporated into modeling of local Zika transmission and mosquito dynamics.

“Findings from our studies will allow for a framework to assess drivers and mosquito control at scales from households to the entire region,” said Stewart Ibarra. “Most importantly, our project will identify and compare drivers for Zika and dengue viruses to reveal key factors in the spread of Zika virus.”

Stewart Ibarra is joined in the project by co-investigators Timothy Endy, MD, MPH, chief of infectious disease at Upstate and a founding member of Upstate’s Center for Global Health & Translational Science; Marco Neira, PhD, assistant professor at Center for Infectious Disease Research, College of Exact and Natural Sciences, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, Quito, Ecuador; and Sadie Ryan, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography, University of Florida.

The NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

Upstate’s Center for Global Health & Translational Science is a multidisciplinary, applied research center, engaging faculty from the Central New York area to work in partnership to improve the delivery of health care globally. Staff is engaged in center based and field research projects in several countries around the world including: Ecuador, Thailand, Kenya, and the United States.

Caption: Anna Stewart Ibarra inspects an ovitrap in the patio of a study household to look for Aedes aegypti mosquito eggs. Ovitraps were monitored over a period of eight months to estimate Aedes aegypti populations, the mosquito that transmits the disease dengue fever.

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