October 01, 2013


 VaTech awarded hepatitis E funding

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a four-year grant totaling nearly $1.6 million to a virologist with the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine to study the genetic elements that allow hepatitis E virus to transfer from animals to people.

X.J. Meng, MD, is the principal investigator in the NIH award to identify the virus gene or genes that enable the animal hepatitis E virus strains in pigs and rabbits to infect humans, the university announced this past July. His laboratory in the Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease is one of the leading international research centers on hepatitis E virus, which causes liver infections in an estimated 20 million people each year.

“We are trying to pinpoint the genetic elements in the virus genome responsible for cross-species infection,” Dr. Meng said. “If we can understand what viral gene or genes allow the virus to transfer from one animal species to another, then we can design better strategies to fight cross-species virus infection.”

Researchers will not only look for the gene or genes that allow the virus to spread from one species to another but also will study the host-immune factors that help defend against hepatitis E virus.

Dr. Meng’s laboratory has been studying hepatitis E virus for decades. His research group discovered two novel hepatitis E viruses: swine hepatitis E virus from pigs in 1997 and avian hepatitis E virus from chickens in 1999. Two years ago, one of Dr. Meng’s graduate students identified the first strains of the virus from rabbits in the United States.

The laboratory will use primarily the swine and rabbit strains of the virus as well as the human hepatitis E virus to study the mechanism of cross-species infection.