DBJ: Wright State University researchers win $1.8M award to battle viral respiratory infections


Kate Excoffon, professor of biology in the College of Science and Mathematics, received $1.8 million in funding from NIH to research an anti-viral therapy to combat respiratory infections.

A team of researchers at a local university could be making strides in viral respiratory infections research, thanks to new funding.

Biology researchers at Wright State University will be receiving approximately $1.8 million over the next five years to fund their viral respiratory infections-focused project. The award was given by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

The team of researchers — led by biology professor Kate Excoffon — have been taking a deeper look at adenovirus infections, which commonly cause respiratory system illnesses such as the common cold and pneumonia, according to Wright State University’s newsroom.

They have also been investigating viral receptors, which must be present on human cells in order to catch a virus. Other discoveries include a cellular protein that can interact with the adenovirus receptor in two different ways and a new anti-viral therapy administered through an inhaler, similar to those used by patients with asthma.

The inhaler therapy could act as a repair system for the body that replenishes tissues for patients who receive new organs or stem cells. Adenoviruses could be present in a transplant patient’s body, or attached to the transplanted organ, which could then spread to the patient’s blood stream. In that situation, the patient’s death rate could be as high as 80 percent. If the inhaler is prescribed early on, it could prevent infection and reduce viral receptors.

This form of therapy could also be used in the military, since certain types of adenoviruses are regularly found in that industry.

There is an adenovirus vaccine that can be taken orally, but it could trigger serious side effects if it’s not consumed properly. The inhaler therapy could prevent a negative response if taken before the vaccine, or it could even replace the vaccine, Excoffon said.

Preliminary experiments have been tested on mice, and according to Excoffon, the anti-virus treatment has been successful. The work has also been in collaboration with Stefan Niewiesk, professor and chair of the department of veterinary biosciences at The Ohio State University.

This viral respiratory infections project could bring a competitive edge to academic research.

“People underappreciate the research component of universities,” Excoffon said. “It’s well known to us that we’re drivers of innovation in ways that are unexpected. Because we will look very deeply at a particular subject, we see things and develop novel approaches, like these potential anti-virals, that few others would ever see or think about.”

Wright State is the third-largest school in the Dayton area, based on student enrollment, and is among the largest employers, according to DBJ research. The university had 17,108 students and 2,563 employees in 2017.

View the original story at bizjournals.com

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