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Mukesh Kumar

Mukesh Kumar at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, has received a major grant to support his work to discover an effective treatment for Flavivirus infections, the leading cause of epidemic encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) worldwide.

There is no approved antiviral therapy available for treatment of flavivirus infections and they continue to spread globally, triggering illness and even death, including from infections tied to the West Nile, Japanese encephalitis, Zika and Dengue viruses.

This study will investigate the function of Schlafen4 in flavivirus infections and what causes these viruses to replicate and develop into disease. Results from this National Institutes of Health-funded study will delineate a new antiviral pathway and identify a novel host antiviral target for treatment of flavivirus encephalitis.

Kumar, an assistant professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and associate director of its Biocontainment facility, notes that Hawaiʻi is particularly at risk for transmission of mosquito-borne viruses. “Our state’s year-round tropical climate favors abundant mosquitoes, and attracts a high influx of visitors from all over the world, including countries where these diseases are endemic,” said Kumar.

Kumar is collaborating with UH Mānoa colleagues Vivek R. Nerurkar, Chair of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology, and Richard Yanagihara, Principal Investigator of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health are funding the study.

Developing therapeutic interventions

“Our long-term goal is to develop effective therapeutic interventions for the clinical management of mosquito-borne viruses,” said Kumar. Studies will be focused on development of specific SLFN4 inhibitor as a viable adjunct therapeutic option for clinical management of diseases caused by mosquito-borne viruses including West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis, Dengue viruses and Zika virus.

Kumar is motivated in his research by close encounters with sufferers of these viruses, including among his family and close friends. “Having lived in the tropical climate my whole life, I have seen several cases of severe mosquito-borne illnesses, including deaths,” he said. “My goal has always been to use my expertise in the field of virology to develop effective therapeutics for these mosquito-borne illnesses.”

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