Scientist awarded UK government funding to develop a rapid diagnostic for Zika Virus

The UK government has awarded £93,000 to Professor George Lomonossoff of the John Innes Centre, Professor Janet Daly of Nottingham University and Professor Luis Ferreira at Sao Paulo University, Brazil to develop an effective diagnostic test to detect Zika virus infection in humans.

Professor Lomonossoff is a co-investigator on the grant led by Professor Janet Daly of Nottingham University.

The technology to be used by Professor Lomonossoff is the same ‘Hypertrans’ technology which will be used in a purpose-built facility in Norwich – planning permission is currently being sought for the new facility for the spin-out company Leaf Systems.

Laboratory confirmation of Zika virus infection is complicated by the fact that it is difficult to distinguish between an antibody response to Zika and a response to other viruses in the same family, including Dengue virus.

Dengue is transmitted by the same species of mosquito as Zika and therefore also infects people in the same regions where Zika virus is currently emerging. It is therefore important to be able to distinguish between antibodies that have been raised against a previously encountered virus and antibodies that indicate a recent or current virus infection.

Professor Lomonossoff’s plant-based Hypertrans expression system will be used in this project to generate diagnostic molecules that allow antibodies to Zika virus to be distinguished from antibodies generated by other flaviviruses such as Dengue.

Using plant-expressed proteins, rather than whole virus, will enable Professor Lomonossoff and the team to manipulate the makeup of the proteins to increase the specificity of the ELISA (antibody test) to detect the Zika Virus.

Professor George Lomonossoff said: “The beauty of this Hypertrans expression system – which is essentially a way of growing non-pathogenic virus mimics in plants – developed at the John Innes Centre is that it can be used to respond very rapidly to emerging virus threats such as the current Zika virus outbreak by producing diagnostic tests. The construction of the new Leaf Systems facility in Norwich will boost our ability to test and scale-up the production of vaccine candidates to combat emerging threats to human health.”

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