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Southern Research Leads ‘Innovation Week’ Panel on Zika Response

August 8, 2016

Southern Research’s rapid and multi-faceted response to the emerging threat of the Zika virus will be explored in a panel discussion held as part of this month’s “Innovation Week” in Birmingham.

The session, called “Advances in Zika Research,” is scheduled for 4:30 p.m., August 25, at Southern Research’s Southside campus.

“The more we learn about Zika, the more we realize how complex this virus truly is.”

Infectious disease scientists at the Birmingham-based non-profit organization have been heavily involved in efforts to understand and combat Zika, which has been linked to severe birth defects and other neurological conditions.

Southern Research panelists are Jonathan Rayner, Ph.D., director of infectious disease research, Drug Development; Timothy Sellati, Ph.D., chair of the Infectious Diseases Department, Drug Discovery; Sarah Ziegler, Ph.D., responsible official and biosafety professional; and Rossi Carlson, advanced marketing specialist.

“The more we learn about Zika, the more we realize how complex this virus truly is,” Rayner said.

The panel will explain how the organization has approached research into the poorly understood mosquito-borne virus while also engaging in community and public relations outreach to increase awareness and preparedness. Key points in this effort include:

  • Southern Research proactively self-funded internal Zika projects to advance the scientific understanding of the viral infection and set the stage for external research projects.
  • An internal, multidisciplinary committee now meets weekly to share updates on Zika-related research projects, funding opportunities, and more.
  • Southern Research groups such as the Drug Discovery and Drug Development divisions are collaborating on Zika work being done in each division.
  • Ziegler has been working with a Jefferson County Department of Health team to provide guidance to law enforcement, firefighters, first responders and local hospital staffs about how to respond to the Zika threat.
  • The public relations team has actively shared basic Zika awareness guidance, including protective measures, and highlighted the progress of Southern Research’s research programs.

The organization’s infectious disease scientists in Birmingham and Frederick, Maryland, have already made notable advances.

Earlier this year, Southern Research scientists developed a unique antiviral assay, a test that researchers worldwide can use to detect Zika in cell cultures. The organization’s scientists are also developing animal models for the evaluation of candidate vaccines and drug therapies.

In July, Southern Research received a contract worth as much as $3.9 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to expand its Zika work and support the quest for a vaccine.

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