UH Med Now
Zika researcher Saguna Verma gets new funding, forges cross-country collaboration to learn why the virus can hide and linger in men
Date: June 11th, 2018 in JABSOM News
Pictured: Dr. Saguna Verma. Amanda Shell photo.
University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa (UHM) Zika researcher Dr. Saguna Verma has received nearly half a million dollars in new funding to extend her research into how the virus can hide in men’s bodies for months after they are infected, posing a risk that their sexual partners can be stricken. There already have been more than 42,000 cases of Zika in the United States, and it remains a serious threat to places — including Hawaiʻi — where the mosquito determined to carry and spread Zika thrives.
But beyond mosquitos, Dr. Verma and her team are especially concerned about how humans can spread the disease, particularly men who may think any illness they suffered — if they experienced symptoms — is long passed.
“As many as 56% of men still had the Zika virus in their seminal fluid for months after the virus had cleared other body fluids,” said Dr. Verma, with the UHM John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) Department of Tropical Medicine, Microbiology and Pharmacology. “That suggests the ability of the Zika virus to enter into the testes to establish persistent infection.” That is alarming because typically, the testes, so vital in reproduction, enjoy immunity from other viral infections.
Using cells made to resemble the testes by collaborators at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University, Verma’s research team hopes to find a way to prevent Zika from breaking through immune barriers that normally stop viruses from infecting male reproductive organs.
The Verma team has already shown that the lengthy “gatekeeper” cells that protect sperm cells (known as Sertoli cells) succumb easily to Zika virus infection. Now, her team will use cells made to resemble the testes to see exactly how the cells respond to the virus, and discern key pathways uniquely associated with testicular immune response and germ cell survival.
Novel Zika testing model created in the laboratory
Dr. Verma’s preliminary studies demonstrate that the Zika virus can productively infect these model testes.
“We anticipate that the data from this study will fill the fundamental gap of knowledge about the cell types that allow for the long-term replication of Zika virus in the testes, and enhance our understanding of the unique immune response to testicular virus infection.”
Hawaiʻi has not had a locally-acquired case of Zika, but people here are vulnerable, because our state has the same type of mosquitos that have a proven ability to spread the virus should they bite an infected person.
Hawaiʻi Community Foundation:
Recent ZIKV Publications
Strange DP, Zarandi NP, Trivedi G, Atala A, Bishop CE, Sadri-Ardekani H, and Verma S. Human testicular organoids as a novel tool to study Zika virus pathogenesis. Emerging Microbes and Infection 2018 May 9;7(1):82. doi: 10.1038/s41426-018-0080-7.https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.eres.library.manoa.hawaii.edu/pubmed/29739931
Strange DP, Siemann DS, Green R, Belcaid, M, Gale Jr. M and Verma S. Transcriptome analysis of primary human Sertoli cells infected with Zika virus reveals unique insights into host-pathogen cross talk. Scientific Reports (In press)
Link to positive comments made by the editor of Nature Medicine about the Verma team’s research.