• Press Release

Mount Sinai Studies Inform Path to Zika Treatment

  • New York, NY
  • (December 21, 2016)

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai are working on the basic science that lays the groundwork to finding a way to treat and prevent the Zika virus, a global health risk. In two papers published this fall, one in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, and the other in the journal Cell Reports, researchers identified the three-dimensional shapes of two enzymes critical to replication and survival of the virus.

The first study looked at the enzyme NS3, which unwinds RNA and is essential for the virus’s replication. The second study examined the enzyme NS5, which is responsible for capping the viral genome, which is vital in the creation of stable RNA for viral replication. Both studies were performed by a team led by Aneel Aggarwal, PhD, Professor of Pharmacological Sciences and Oncological Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and which also included Rinku Jain, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacological Sciences, and Adolfo García-Sastre, PhD, Professor of Microbiology and Director of the Global Health & Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, as well as their former colleague Javier Colomo, PhD.

“Determining the three-dimensional structures of a virus and its enzymes is a crucial prerequisite for structure-based drug discovery,” said Dr. Aggarwal. “Once we know the precise shape of these entities, we can work on inhibiting them.”

Drug development within the field of structural biology relies on high-resolution three-dimensional structures coupled with computational and medicinal chemistry. While the same enzymes exist in other flaviviruses (such as Dengue and West Nile), the exact shape of the enzymes is different in each virus.  In these studies, Dr. Aggarwal and his team identified the shape of the enzymes in a short amount of time and immediately made their results available to researchers throughout the world working to find an effective treatment for Zika virus.

“The next step would be to develop compounds to inhibit these enzymes’ actions by physically blocking them, interfering with the reproduction of the virus,” said Dr. Aggarwal. “We are fortunate to be able to collaborate with some of the best computational and medicinal chemists and virologists right here at Mount Sinai.”

The Zika virus has emerged as a major health concern over the past year, spreading rapidly across parts of South and Central America, as well as some parts of North America. It has been linked to birth defects in newborn infants and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults. At this point, there is no effective way of preventing infection once people are exposed to Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

“We hope this work will lead to the development of effective treatments that help alleviate the terrible effects of Zika, and we see ourselves as part of a world-wide effort,” said Dr. Aggarwal.


About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with 48,000 employees working across eight hospitals, more than 400 outpatient practices, more than 600 research and clinical labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time—discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 9,000 primary and specialty care physicians and 11 free-standing joint-venture centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida. Hospitals within the System are consistently ranked by Newsweek’s® “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals, Best in State Hospitals, World Best Hospitals and Best Specialty Hospitals” and by U.S. News & World Report's® “Best Hospitals” and “Best Children’s Hospitals.” The Mount Sinai Hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report® “Best Hospitals” Honor Roll for 2023-2024.

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