By Lisa Brown
Talbot Green was the place to be on Thursday, April 14!
The North Shore Animal League of America’s puppy van, along with Boston Medical Center’s Healing Paws therapy dogs helped spread some puppy cheer to faculty, students and staff on the Medical Campus.
BUMC’s Earth Day Festival also set the scene for a fun and interactive day with food, activities, giveaways and more!
If you missed the puppies, they’ll be back Friday, April 15 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
n April 6, 1991, Iraq accepted the provisions of United National Security Council Resolution 687, thus ending the Gulf War. On April 9, 2016, Boston University joined with the VA Boston Healthcare System to host an event to thank those who served.
Dr. Terence Keane, Associate Chief of Staff, Research and Development at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Assistant Dean for Research at BU School of Medicine, gave the opening remarks. “We take this opportunity, on the 25th anniversary of the Gulf War, to offer you our sincere thanks,” Keane told the approximately 100 Gulf War Veterans in attendance.
Dr. Anna Hohler, Director for the Center for Military and Post Deployment Health at BU, and associate professor of Neurology, thanked the Veterans for their continued service. “Not only did you serve in the Gulf, but you have continued to serve through your participation in research studies that will ultimately improve the health of your fellow soldiers and of the population in general,” Hohler said.
The Color Guard of the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine presented the Colors while The Newtones of Newton South High School sang the National Anthem.
Dr. Roberta White, Chair of the Department of Environmental Health at the BU School of Public Health, gave an overview of research conducted over the past quarter century. White, who told the Veterans of her personal connection having lost her own father to a war-related illness, has been involved in extensive research that has led to acceptance of Gulf War Illness (GWI) as a physical illness. White presented a summary of studies that have identified chemical exposures associated with GWI and neuroimaging evidence of structural brain damage associated with GWI.
Veterans also heard from several BU and VA researchers who continue to conduct ground-breaking studies related to Gulf War Illness. Drs. Barbara Niles, Margaret Naeser, Kimberly Sullivan, Rosemary Toomey, Maxine Krengel, Neil Kowall (represented by Ms. Tranijit Singh) and Scott Kinlay presented information on current studies aimed at increasing our understanding of and improving treatment for GWI.
Mr. Anthony Hardie, a Veteran advocate and Director of Veterans for Common Sense, urged audience members to take part in ongoing research at BU and the VA. “These studies are only as good as our participation,” Mr. Hardie told his fellow Gulf War Veterans.
In addition to providing important information on Gulf War Illness and services available to Veterans, the event provided a forum for Veterans to talk with one another about their shared experiences. Most important, the gathering gave researchers and clinicians an opportunity to say thank you to the men and women who have served and continue to give through their study participation.
Submitted by Monica Parker-James.
Do you consider yourself to be a Mentor, or are you looking for a Mentor in a particular area?
BU Profiles has a NEW Mentoring Section which:
- Is highly visible and showcases faculty mentoring expertise.
- Makes it easy for students, trainees and faculty to find mentors across BUMC.
BU Profile holders can edit their profile and add a dedicated mentoring narrative about their approach and outlook. Are you willing to act as a mentor but haven’t provided your mentoring narrative? Please do the following:
- Read the Mentoring FAQs section, which contains tips on what to include. You’ll find excellent examples of faculty who have already added mentoring here and here.
- Make your Mentoring section public to ensure it will be visible.
Anyone can use the new “Find Mentors” search option to look for mentors by role, department/section or keyword.
Learn about the new mentoring features by looking at the “what’s new” section, or by reading the Mentoring FAQs. Please give us your feedback on this new feature, or on anything else in BU Profiles. You can use that form if you have questions or issues of any kind.
Did you miss BUMC’s Art Days 2016? Take a look at this campuswide event and see who’s channeling their inner Monet.
24-hour fundraising drive: challenges, activities, social media shout-outs
Today, the Boston University community will come together for the University’s third annual Giving Day, a 24-hour fundraising drive that will benefit the BU Annual Fund. In addition to raising money online, there will be activities across the Charles River and Medical Campuses and a community-wide social media shout-out of favorite things about BU.
Since launching in 2014, Giving Day has raised more than $2.1 million from over 7,954 students, alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and friends of the University. Those funds have been used to support BU’s individual schools and colleges, scholarships, athletics, study-abroad experiences, libraries, the Community Service Center, and sustainability initiatives.
“Giving Day is a chance for everyone in the BU community to come together for 24 hours and celebrate the things they care about at BU,” says Dan Allenby, Development & Alumni Relations assistant vice president for annual giving. “In the first two years of this event, 332 worthy causes at BU received donations on Giving Day. We hope that continues to grow this year as more members of our community choose to give back.”
The day’s goal isn’t just to raise money, but to connect the entire BU community—no matter how far-flung—through school spirit and the common goal of supporting the University’s research, education, athletics, and programs. Terriers are encouraged to support any area of BU they choose with a donation. As in previous years, donors can unlock bonus funds throughout the day by winning challenges sponsored by alumni. Gifts made to schools, colleges, and varsity athletics will also qualify for additional matching funds. Dollars raised for particular causes and by various groups (e.g., school vs school, team vs team, and alumni vs students) are tracked, leaderboard-style, on the Giving Day website.
Challenges offer extra incentive to give
New this year are two challenges sponsored by recent graduates. The first comes from the 2016 Class Gift Committee and encourages current students to support their favorite campus activity. The clubs or organizations that secure the most student donors will win matching funds.
“I’m choosing to give back to BU on Giving Day because the tuition I pay goes to the general BU student body, but my gift goes directly to something specific on campus that I care about,” says 2016 Class Gift cochair Juliana Zeta Freeman (CAS’16). She and her fellow committee members are hoping for a strong senior turnout to take advantage of the matching funds.
The second challenge is sponsored by Hillary Babick (CFA’11), who hopes it will inspire her peers to give. If 100 recent graduates make donations between 1 and 2 p.m. tomorrow, she will give $500 to the Community Service Center, which oversees 14 service programs as well as numerous one-time service projects and events.
“Recent grad giving is really important,” says Babick. “I’ve found that a lot of my peers have great affinity for the University, but that doesn’t necessarily match what we can contribute. I choose to give on Giving Day because it’s all about participation and raising your hand.”
There are several ways to be part of Giving Day in person, as well as online. On the Charles River Campus, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the GSU Link will be Giving Day headquarters. Activities will include a photo booth and appearances by Rhett. Student radio station WTBU deejays will provide the soundtrack for the day, and participating student groups will host informational tables. Multiple giving stations will be set up on the Medical Campus, with opportunities to be featured in photos and posts shared over social media.
Social media activity
Participants can use the hashtag #BUGivingDay on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Vine posts to join in the conversation and to check out what others are saying about Giving Day. You can also follow the day’s activities on the University’s Snapchat account, @bostonu. Participants can tell the BU community why they donated by posting videos, photos, or testimonials using the #IGivetoBU hashtag.
Watch a video about this year’s Giving Day above.
This BU Today story was written by Lindsay A. Roth.
Each year Boston University holds recognition events to honor employees who have reached service milestones in their careers at BU.
A luncheon was held March 31 to honor faculty and staff who have completed 10 and 25 years of service. In total, there were 87 people honored for 25 years and 238 honored for 10-year service milestones.
“Your dedicated service has been and continues to be a key factor in realizing the University’s mission. We are delighted to honor you and, in doing so, to celebrate the diversity of talent and expertise that makes this University great. Your service is the foundation of our institution,” said President Robert A. Brown.
“We are proud to honor these employees who have made a significant career commitment to the Boston University,” said BU Medical Campus Provost and BUSM Dean Karen Antman, MD. “We appreciate your ongoing dedication to the continuing success of the Medical Campus.
Celebrating 10 Years of Service
|Edith||Ablavsky||School of Public Health|
|Sandhya||Agnihotri||Alumni Medical Library|
|David||Ananian||National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories|
|Kimberly||Avila||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Markus||Bachschmid||School of Medicine|
|Marco||Basta||Information Services & Technology|
|Jennifer||Beard||School of Public Health|
|Alexander||Bendayan||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Shalender||Bhasin||School of Medicine|
|Steven||Bookless||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Lisa||Brown||School of Medicine|
|Ci-Di||Chen||School of Medicine|
|Clara||Chen||School of Public Health|
|Ilia Jorgji||Coka||School of Medicine|
|Sharon||Coleman||School of Public Health|
|Tasha||Coughlin||School of Public Health|
|Yolanda||Cuevas||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Kathie||Davis-Dottin||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Richard||Dinnocenzo||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Melissa||Dipetrillo||School of Medicine|
|Gheorghe||Doros||School of Public Health|
|Denise||Eckstrom||School of Medicine|
|Margaret||Errante||Dental Health Center|
|Stephanie||Ettinger De Cuba||School of Public Health|
|Alik||Farber||School of Medicine|
|Jesuina||Fernandes||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Anne||Fidler||School of Public Health|
|Fausta||Freire||School of Medicine|
|Shahnaz||Gharib||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Avneesh||Gupta||School of Medicine|
|Selim||Hascelik||Alumni Medical Library|
|Lori||Henault||School of Medicine|
|Ronald||Iverson||School of Medicine|
|Scharukh||Jalisi||School of Medicine|
|Rinat||Jonas||School of Medicine|
|Joanne||Kayden||Dental Health Center|
|Bruce||Larson||School of Public Health|
|Ana||Lemus||School of Medicine|
|Karin||Leschly||School of Medicine|
|Gang||Liu||School of Medicine|
|Donna||Magnanti||School of Medicine|
|Keith||McDonald||BUMC Facilities Management|
|Raquel||McDonald||School of Medicine|
|Hans||Meier-Ewert||School of Medicine|
|Asim||Mian||School of Medicine|
|Linda||Ng||School of Medicine|
|Jingbo||Niu||School of Medicine|
|Sheree||Norquist||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Maria||Ober||School of Medicine|
|Christopher||Pellegrino||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Aeisha||Pringle||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Fuzhong||Qin||School of Medicine|
|John||Reilly||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Catherine||Rich||School of Medicine|
|Linda||Rosen||Graduate Medical Science|
|Jennifer E||Rosen||School of Medicine|
|Amy||Rubin||School of Medicine|
|Kelley||Saia||School of Medicine|
|Erdjan||Salih||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Sepehr||Sekhavat||School of Medicine|
|Kimberly||Shea||School of Public Health|
|Dhurata||Shosho||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Elizabeth||Stier||School of Medicine|
|Tony||Tannoury||School of Medicine|
|Alexander||Walley||School of Medicine|
|Mary||Walsh||School of Medicine|
|Jennifer||Ward||School of Medicine|
|Rebecca||Washburn||School of Medicine|
|Elizabeth||Whitney||School of Medicine|
|Mary||Wienke||School of Medicine|
|James||Wolff||School of Public Health|
|Weining||Zhao||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
Celebrating 25 Years of Service
|Ildiko||Akey||School of Medicine|
|Thomas||Barber||School of Medicine|
|Edward||Bernstein||School of Medicine|
|Pelly||Chang||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Wendy||Cheney||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|Lora||Forman||School of Medicine|
|Haiyan||Gong||School of Medicine|
|Joseph||Kahn||School of Medicine|
|Vasken||Kroshian||School of Medicine|
|Harold||Lazar||School of Medicine|
|Birgitta||Lehman||School of Medicine|
|Christine||Paal||School of Public Health|
|John||Palfrey||School of Medicine|
|Hee-Young||Park||Graduate Medical Science|
|Nicole||Prudent||School of Medicine|
|Richard||Rabbett||Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine|
|N. Paul||Rosman||School of Medicine|
|Shelley||Russek||School of Medicine|
|Eugene||Uzogara||School of Medicine|
Last year more than 100 faculty, staff, residents and students attended John McCahan Medical Education Day at the BU Medical Campus. Now is your chance to submit an abstract for a workshop or a poster.
This year the event will be held on Wednesday, May 25 and it will be hosted by the Department of Medical Sciences and Education. The theme of the day will be “Interactive Learning” and the keynote speaker is Dr. Colin Montpetit.
Please visit the McCahan Day website for more information and to submit a workshop proposal or poster abstract; submission deadline is April 8.
Free, confidential counseling for navigating work and life issues
This is the first in a series about Boston University services available to faculty and staff to help with work-related and personal issues.
BU’s Faculty & Staff Assistance Office (FSAO) provides a quiet, reassuring environment where employees can talk about issues affecting their professional or personal lives. For three decades, the office in the basement of the School of Social Work building on Bay State Road—staffed by licensed clinical social workers—has offered counseling, resources, and referrals to those seeking help with addiction, domestic violence, mental health, relationship, and parenting issues, and managing a work-life balance. Services are free and completely confidential.
“We are experienced behavioral health providers who know and understand the culture here at Boston University,” says Bonnie Teitleman (SSW’83), director of FSAO. “We offer a compassionate, caring environment.”
With locations on both the Charles River and Medical Campuses, the FSAO is available to all full- and part-time employees and their families, providing what’s called a brief treatment model, where people can be seen for up to six sessions. During the initial visit, an employee meets with a counselor to talk about the nature of the issue. “We will brainstorm potential ways to cope with the situation—sometimes that will be a series of brief meetings, where we’ll identify and solve the person’s problem,” Teitleman says. Other times, a person may present with a longer-term problem that requires a referral to a therapist, a family counselor, or another experienced professional in the community. When outside help is required, Teitleman and Karen Brouhard, the FSAO’s other counselor, help to find the right provider.
“If it’s a relationship issue, we might take several sessions to discern if it’s a relationship the person wants to work with, if it’s salvageable,” says Teitleman. “We have couples therapists in the community we could refer them to with their partner for some of that work on repair. If, on the other hand, they’ve decided through several sessions that they either don’t want to stay in the relationship or they don’t know what they want to do, at that point we would consider referring them to another clinician in the community.”
Teitleman and Brouhard, both with years of experience in a variety of mental health and medical settings, have seen and dealt with just about every problem imaginable. They routinely help people to navigate workplace issues, from harassment and bullying to a bad performance review. They may serve as a sounding board for a supervisor struggling with an ineffective employee, a faculty member who needs help mediating a difficult relationship with a colleague, a family struggling with the death of a loved one, or a new employee who has relocated to Boston and needs help finding a mental health provider for themselves or a family member.
“People don’t have to have a mental health problem or symptoms to access our services,” says Brouhard. “So often it’s an issue that’s emerged in a relationship or in their personal life, where they need a little extra support, some assistance coping, someone to help them think through an issue.”
FSAO also helps people hoping to enhance their job performance. An employee may want help becoming more assertive, being a better listener, or learning to cope with stress so they can respond thoughtfully in situations, rather than being reactive.
“We’ll work with someone to help figure out how they want to manage their career,” Brouhard says. “We’ll help someone figure out if it’s time for them to move on from a job that’s not a good fit or that has them hitting their heads on the ceiling.” The office maintains a list of career counselors in the Boston area they can refer faculty and staff to as needed.
Often, employees seek out FSAO’s help for problems at home, such as dealing with the emotional fallout from a divorce, finding resources for aging parents, or parenting children with special needs.
The FSAO website provides information and suggestions for dealing with a host of subjects, including stress and anxiety (the number one issue for employees, according to Teitleman), compulsive behaviors, work issues, family challenges, relationships, coping with change, elder care, trauma, anger management, and retirement. There are quizzes that help identify areas where support is needed.
In addition to seeing individuals one-on-one or with family members, FSAO has customized workshops for departments and groups across campus, on topics from strategies for maintaining a healthy work-life balance to mindfulness as a tool for building resilience to how to talk to elderly loved ones about end-of-life issues to how to manage addiction. In times of crisis, the staff is often called upon as first responders, offering grief counseling.
“With a workforce this large, there are going to be deaths, there are going to be tragedies that affect our employees,” says Brouhard. “If there’s been an incident that’s affected an employee, a manager often will contact us to consult about how to support the employee at such a time. That might involve us coming in and meeting with the work group, facilitating the conversation, providing some critical incident debriefing.”
“I often find myself saying to distressed people that organizations per se don’t have a conscience, but the people who work in the organizations do,” says Teitleman. “That’s the part of the organization that we want to represent—the part that wants to see people treated well, treated with respect. One of the things I find most gratifying about our work is to help an employee with a problem this year, and then they come back next year with a different problem. That tells us that we’ve been successful with them, when we see them as repeat customers.”
The Charles River Campus Faculty & Staff Assistance Office is at 270 Bay State Rd. Call 617-353-5381 for an appointment. The FSAO also has a Medical Campus office, in the Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Building, 85 East Newton St., eighth floor, Room 818B. Call 617-638-5381 for an appointment.
This is a BU Today article.
Faculty from MED, SDM, and SPH promoted
Paul Duprex, originally from Northern Ireland, specializes in the genetics of viruses. Haiyan Gong (GRS’91), a native of China, has spent nearly three decades studying a single system in the eye and its relation to glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness worldwide. The two are among eight BU Medical Campus faculty recently promoted to full professor.
“These promotions signify a major milestone in our faculty’s careers,” says Karen Antman, dean of the School of Medicine and provost of the Medical Campus. “Achieving the rank of professor recognizes their outstanding contributions plus their national and international reputations.”
Duprex, a MED professor of microbiology and director of the cell and tissue imaging core at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), studies the pathogenesis and spread of human and animal viruses, and has worked on the molecular biology of paramyxoviruses for more than 20 years. These include measles, mumps, and canine distemper viruses, which require Biosafety Level 2 containment. As a molecular virologist, he uses genetic techniques to manipulate the genomes of these viruses and make them glow green, red, or blue when they infect a cell. This allows him to illuminate diseases and track the spread of viruses inside and between hosts.
One side of his work is mapping the parts of the genes that build viruses and cause disease. The flip side is trying to identify changes in the genes that can transform viruses from killers into vaccines.
Duprex grew up in Lurgan, a small market town outside Belfast. He takes pride in his roots, but the self-described “child of the Troubles” grew up thinking a lot about the inequities of the world, and is a proponent the idea of global health. He arrived in Massachusetts a decade ago on a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health grant to work at Johnson & Johnson as principal scientist on a project to make heat-stable vaccines.
“Millions and millions and millions of people are alive today because of vaccines,” Duprex says, “and they’re not just the preserve of us in the developed world—they really have been sent to all corners of the developing world, and that’s brilliant.”
Duprex earned a BSc in biochemistry and genetics at the Pirbright Institute and Queen’s University Belfast, and a PhD in molecular virology from Queen’s University, where he became a senior lecturer before coming to BU in 2010.
A special focus of his team’s research is understanding what allows an animal virus to jump to a human population or prevents that from happening. “You need to pick apart these processes slowly and systematically,” he says. “Here’s the virus and here’s a human cell. Can it get in? Can it replicate? Can it get out to spread infection? And can it spread from this host to that host? Understand all of those stages, and you begin to identify the weak points, and it’s potentially possible to stop it.”
Gong, a MED professor of ophthalmology and of anatomy and neurobiology, arrived at BU in 1986 with a compelling backstory. Raised in China during the Cultural Revolution, she attended nursing school and worked as a nurse in the ophthalmology department of a city hospital. When China began to relax its social strictures, she earned an MD at Jiangxi Medical College and received additional training in ophthalmology. Then the real drama began.
“I went to Tibet as a volunteer after graduation,” she says. “At the time, Tibet didn’t have a train, so we took a bus, a whole week over the mountains to get to Lhasa. I was assigned to Lhasa City People’s Hospital. I told the president of the hospital that I had additional training in ophthalmology, and wished to become an ophthalmologist. But I was told, ‘We need a surgeon right now.’
“The first day I reported to the surgery department they told me, ‘Two surgeries today,’ so I went to hide in the dressing room to look at the textbook to review how to perform the operations,” she says, shaking her head. “But you learn a lot and quickly in that kind of environment.”
With an MS in ophthalmology from Peking Union Medical College, Gong landed a research fellowship at West Virginia University before coming to BU, where she earned a PhD in anatomy and became interested in studying the aqueous outflow system, which drains aqueous humor in the eye to maintain needed pressure and provide nutrition to the eye. Its blockage or constriction causes elevated intraocular pressure, a primary risk factor for the development and progression of primary open-angle glaucoma.
The technique she’s developed to evaluate the structure and function of the system has helped in the testing of new drugs and surgical devices. Her work has been funded by numerous National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants.
“I think we’ve answered some questions, but then new questions emerged,” she says. “Over time you learn to ask more clinical relevant research questions.”
Besides Paul Duprex and Haiyan Gong, the Medical Campus faculty promoted to full professor are:
Pushkar Mehra, Goldman School of Dental Medicine professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery
Mehra specializes in the surgical treatment of obstructive sleep apnea, maxillofacial pathology, nerve repair, and complex functional and aesthetic facial reconstruction. He is department chair and associate dean for hospital affairs, overseeing the clinical training of postdoctoral residents at Boston Medical Center. A fellow of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons and a Massachusetts delegate to the association, Mehra also serves on the Examination Committee of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.
Rutao Cui, MED professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics and of dermatology
Cui’s research targets cancer biology, focusing both on the molecular basis of melanoma development and potential treatments. He is director of the MED Laboratory of Melanoma Research in Cancer Pharmacology. He has received funding from the NIH, the US Department of Defense (DOD), and private foundations, and now has grants from the National Cancer Institute, the DOD, and the Melanoma Research Foundation. His recent research has focused in part on the correlation between having red hair and developing melanoma.
Noyan Gokce, MED professor of medicine (cardiology)
Gokce’s research is focused on the study and treatment of obesity-related cardiovascular disease and the effect of adipose tissue on vascular biology. He is Boston Medical Center’s director of echocardiography, chairs the NIH Section on Translational Research in Diabetes and Obesity, and has been elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He is a past recipient of an NIH Research Career Development Award and has twice received the Cardiology Section’s Excellence in Clinical Teaching Award.
Marc Lenburg, MED professor of medicine and of pathology and laboratory medicine and College of Engineering professor of bioinformatics
Lenburg, whose primary appointment is at MED, works with genomic technology and translational bioinformatics to detect and treat lung cancer, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He has developed computational methods for a commercially available gene-expression biomarker used in the clinical care of patients with suspected lung cancer and has received several NIH grants. He is the deputy director of BU’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute bioinformatics core.
Pieter Noordzij, MED professor of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery
Noordzij’s research is centered on medical and surgical management of disorders affecting the larynx and the thyroid gland, including voice and swallowing disorders. His work includes care of the professional voice and development of new techniques to treat vocal fold paralysis. His research on proton pump inhibitor therapy for laryngeal reflux is considered a landmark development in the treatment of nonspecific laryngitis. He is a past recipient of the Charles Vaughan Excellence in Teaching Award and the Didactic Teacher of the Year Award, both given by otolaryngology residents to a single faculty member
Lauren Wise, School of Public Health professor of epidemiology
Wise’s work in reproductive and perinatal epidemiology focuses on the genetic and environmental determinants of uterine fibroids in African American women, as well as risk factors for delayed conception and adverse pregnancy outcomes. She is principal investigator of the Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO), a web-based research study of time-to-pregnancy and birth outcomes being conducted in North America and Denmark and funded by the NIH. The study examines whether lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and medication use have an impact on fertility and pregnancy outcomes. She is a recipient of the ASPH/Pfizer Young Investigator’s Award for Distinguished Research in Public Health, given by the Association of the Schools of Public Health.
This BU Today story was written by Joel Brown.
NEIDL acquires sample of virus for further study
After weeks of BU researchers trying to procure a sample of Zika virus, the pathogen linked to microcephaly and other neurological syndromes, the vial finally arrived at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) on March 22. NEIDL director Ronald B. Corley, a School of Medicine professor and chair of microbiology, announced the acquisition that day at a BUMC Provost Research Seminar. Zika, like dengue, mumps, and measles, is a Biosafety Level 2 pathogen, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an agent that poses “moderate hazards to personnel and the environment.”
The sample was of the strain originally isolated in 1947, and it will allow scientists to grow and propagate the virus for study. The 1947 strain is the precursor to the virus causing the current outbreaks in South America and the Caribbean. Because samples of the modern virus are proving difficult to obtain, scientists at NEIDL will begin their work using the 1947 isolate while using published genetic data to make a clone of the modern Zika strain.
“There’s a real need for us to be doing research on this virus. It’s been seen in Boston and will be again,” said John Connor, a MED associate professor of microbiology and a NEIDL researcher, who acquired the Zika sample from the Biodefense and Emerging Infections Research Resources Repository, a supply house for scientists studying infectious diseases. “Having the virus will allow us to ask important questions, like: what is driving the pathogenesis? How is the virus getting across the placental barrier? What is its replication like in mosquitos?” Connor said. “Without understanding the virus, it’s hard to know how to block it.”
Karen H. Antman, dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus, began planning the Zika workshop about six weeks ago, when she became aware that people from BU’s medical, dental, and public health schools were all talking about the virus, but not necessarily collaborating. “It’s a rapidly emerging field—we want everyone doing research on this in the same room,” says Antman. “Clinical people have blood specimens, lab people have techniques. We wanted them all talking to each other.”
Zika grabbed the world’s attention in fall 2015 when scientists in Brazil began to suspect a connection between the virus and microcephaly—babies born with small heads and neurological deficits—and also Zika’s possible link to other neurological syndromes like Guillain-Barré. Since January 1, 2007, 59 countries and territories have reported transmission of Zika virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and on February 1, 2016, the WHO declared the cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders a health emergency. So far, 258 cases have been reported in the United States, all introduced from other countries.
The Research Seminar, which included updates from virologists, epidemiologists, and physicians, revealed what scientists have learned about the virus since the 2015 outbreak in Brazil and how many questions remain.
“Zika is difficult to diagnose; the clinical symptoms are really vague,” Robin Ingalls, a MED associate professor of medicine and microbiology, said during her clinical overview of Zika. Ingalls noted that an estimated 80 percent of people infected with Zika show no symptoms at all. Most people who get sick have a red, pimply rash that Ingalls called “very subtle,” along with other symptoms—like fever, headache, fatigue, and malaise—that overlap with dengue fever and chikungunya, making the disease even more difficult to diagnose.
Lab tests “don’t really make it much easier,” she said. “While we can detect virus in the blood, it is only there for about a week after infection.” After the first week, physicians can order blood tests that measure antibodies specific to Zika. Laboratories are reporting a backlog in these tests, however, with results taking as long as six weeks. Also, the tests can be difficult to interpret because of cross-reactions with similar viruses, like dengue, the patient may have been exposed to.
Many questions about transmission, especially from mother to fetus, remain unanswered, Ingalls said. “How can Zika evade the immune response of placenta? What is the critical time for exposure of the fetus? Is there something unique about Brazil that is increasing the risk of microcephaly?” she asked. “We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg, and we don’t know what the long-term consequences of infection will be.”
“It appears pretty convincing that Zika is linked to microcephaly,” said Donald M. Thea, a School of Public Health professor of global health and director of the BU Center for Global Health & Development, who spoke on the public health aspects of Zika. “From an epidemiological perspective, the question is, how high is the risk?”
Much of Thea’s talk focused on what scientists know about the transmission of Zika from mosquitos to humans, and from one human to another. He noted that scientists have isolated the virus from 10 species of Aedes mosquito, and from several other mosquito families as well. While Aedes aegypti is the best known, he said, Aedes albopictus—introduced into the United States in 1985—is the most worrisome because of its hardiness and wider range. “If efficient transmission is limited to Aedes aegypti, then the virus shouldn’t get beyond Texas and the southeastern United States,” areas with warm, moist air where that mosquito can thrive, he said. But if Aedes albopictus can spread the disease just as well, larger areas of the world may be exposed.
Thea also explained what scientists currently know about human-to-human transmission. They have found that patients carry low levels of Zika virus in their blood after symptoms begin, but higher levels of the virus in urine, saliva, and semen for a longer time. (Scientists have also found Zika virus in cerebral spinal fluid and in breast milk.) Thea said that the risk of transmission through semen is especially worrisome. “The amount of virus in semen is very high,” he said, noting that the viral count in semen can be 100,000 times higher than that in blood, and that scientists have measured Zika virus in semen as late as 62 days after infection. “A patient’s semen contains virus before the onset of symptoms, but we’re not sure how long the virus remains infectious. We are at the cusp of a really interesting part of the Zika virus investigation.”
Also speaking at the seminar were Davidson Hamer, Athanasios I. Zavras, and Rachel Fearns. Hamer, an SPH professor of global health, explained how the GeoSentinel Network—a clinic-based global surveillance system that focuses on travelers, immigrants, and refugees—allows scientists to detect new infections and disease patterns, all with lab-confirmed diagnoses. He expects to publish preliminary GeoSentinel Network findings on Zika in the coming months. Zavras, a School of Dental Medicine professor and chair of pediatric dentistry, discussed the detection—and possible transmission—of Zika virus through saliva. Fearns, a MED associate professor of microbiology, described mutations in the Zika genome that may be helping the virus replicate, and spread among people, more efficiently.
“Up until about four years ago, proposing to study Zika was a dead end for funding. It wasn’t very prevalent,” Connor said during a discussion panel at the end of the seminar. “It’s only the recent rapid spread and new adverse outcomes associated with infection that have made research to understand this virus a high priority.”
This BU Today story was written by Barbara Moran. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.