Researchers are trying to developing a quick diagnostic test for the Zika virus. Image: Anthony Griffiths/MIT News
Image: Anthony Griffiths/MIT News

The Zika virus, a disease that’s primarily spread through the bite of the Aedes mosquito, was recently declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO). As the virus spreads around the globe, researchers in the Gehrke Lab at MIT’s Institute of Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) are leading the charge to develop a faster diagnostic test and a vaccine, neither of which exist.

The lab is currently focused “on developing sensitive, low-cost, rapid diagnostics to detect Zika, giving a result in ten to fifteen minutes, as well as on basic research needed to characterize Zika virus infections in advance of therapeutics and vaccine development,” says Lee Gehrke, the Hermann von Helmholtz Professor in IMES and Professor of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School.

Approximately one in five people infected with the Zika virus will become sick. Because infected individuals are so often non-symptomatic, there is a high risk for transmission—and the long-term effects of infection are unknown.

In addition to developing better diagnostics, the Gehrke lab also hopes to help create a smart mosquito trap that could serve as an advance warning system of future outbreaks.

Another IMES researcher, associate professor of chemical engineering Daniel Anderson, is working on a nanoparticle vaccine that could be used to fight Zika. Anderson’s team has already created similar vaccines for other pathogens that have proven effective in animal studies. Once the lab identifies Zika antigens, Anderson says it will take about seven days to produce the vaccine, making it ideal to combat sudden outbreaks. His team is working with other labs and government agencies to validate the vaccine’s potential.

Read more about IMES researchers on the frontlines of the fight against Zika.

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