Current Projects

Current Projects

Safer arbovirus vaccines

In a project funded by the National Institutes of Health NIAID, we are developing safer live attenuated vaccines for chikungunya and Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses using virus variants that mutate less frequently and therefore develop fewer mutations that confer virulence.

Emerging and re-emerging viruses in California

We are genetically characterizing contemporary West Nile and St. Louis encephalitis virus circulating in mosquitoes in California and performing experimental studies to evaluate viral, host, and environmental factors that promoted the re-emergence of St. Louis encephalitis virus in California in 2015 and 2016 and the maintenance of epidemic West Nile virus each summer. This work is funded by the CDC Center of Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases for the Pacific Region of the United States.

Non human primate model of Zika virus

Together with the California National Primate Research Center including Koen Van Rompay, we are generating a pregnant macaque model of human Zika virus disease. In addition to using the model to understand human ZIKV infection dynamics and disease with potential effects on fetal development and transfusion transmission, we are testing candidate vaccines and therapies.

  • We partnered with the Food and Drug Administration to investigate which tissues Zika virus targets in non-human primates to inform FDA policies on the risk of Zika virus transmission through infected tissue products.
  • Together with the Blood Systems Research Institute/University of California San Francisco, we are characterizing blood transfusion-transmission of Zika virus in macaques to establish minimal requirements for Zika virus blood or organ transfusion-transmission and to characterize pathogen reduction approaches to interrupt transfusion or organ transmission.
  • We are also developing a project to determine whether mutations in emerging Zika virus are responsible for fetal neurologic disease and death using the macaque model. Defining the viral determinants of clinical Zika virus outcome in macaques could be translated to candidate vaccines or therapies to protect mothers and their infants against the most severe forms of Zika virus disease.

Intrahost genetic diversity and arboviral disease

We are studying how genetically diverse viral populations of chikungunya virus generated by error-prone viral replication influence mosquito-borne virus transmission and disease.

Zika virus vector competence

With funding provided by Abt Associates and the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California, we are evaluating the capacity of mosquitoes from California to transmit Zika virus. Results from this study will allow prediction of the potential for Zika virus establishment and range expansion in the state.

Enhanced arbovirus surveillance

Together with the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District and Sandia National Laboratories, we are developing novel cost-effective approaches to detect arbovirus circulation in mosquitoes in California based on deposition of arbovirus RNA by wild mosquitoes during sugar feeding.