Priya Shah

NIH Awards Priya Shah $2.8 Million to Research How Zika Virus Causes Brain-Related Birth Defects

A recently discovered link between a critical human protein called ANKLE2 and Zika-borne viral microcephaly begs deeper investigation

For most people, contracting Zika virus, a flavivirus carried by mosquitos, is akin to getting any mildly inconvenient virus. 

You might get a fever and a rash, and it's gone in a few days. But for pregnant people, there is a roughly 4% chance that a bite from a mosquito with Zika virus could have life-altering effects on developing fetuses in the form of microcephaly, a neurological condition that indicates an under-developed brain.  

This is because the virus essentially hijacks ANKLE2, a human protein crucial in stem cell growth, and uses it to replicate itself, an interaction that Priya Shah, an assistant professor in the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Davis, has been researching since 2017.  

Now thanks to a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Shah will spend the next five years investigating the relationship between this human protein ANKLE2 and the Zika virus protein NS4A to shed new light on why this interaction causes microcephaly in some developing infants.    

Read the full story here.