Published November 4, 2015
Amy Jacobs, PhD, research associate professor of microbiology and immunology, received an award from the National Science Foundation to focus on the entry mechanism of the Ebola virus. The mechanism could be used to deliver drugs to infected cells.
According to Jacobs, the last outbreak of Ebola was more widespread than it has been in the past, and Ebola research is now a priority.
“There hasn’t been a lot of research on Ebola. After this outbreak, the governmental agencies decided they should start putting some time into Ebola. We really didn’t know very much about how it gets into the cell, and we didn’t know much about the surface proteins and receptors,” said Jacobs.
The research from this project will also be important for the study of other enveloped viruses including influenza, HIV, dengue fever and Middle East respiratory syndrome, among others.
“All the enveloped virus research is very similar. I can easily adapt my assays by switching cells to study the entry mechanism of any of them,” she said.
Entry research, the study of how viruses enter cells, will ultimately enable a better understanding of how viral entry can be stopped and the Ebola infection controlled.
“We have knocked down versions of the virus that don’t have the genetic information to make it active. This allows us to safely study the outer part of the virus and its method of entry,” said Jacobs.
“Entry research is especially fun because you can do a lot without it being dangerous. It’s exciting to think about those entry methods as potential drug delivery mechanisms as well, since you can put anything inside,” explained Jacobs.
Jacobs’ lab will use atomic-level computer monitoring to predict and characterize how small molecule compound probes bind to, and interact with, specific viral proteins located on the surface of the Ebola virus.
Computational scientists, led by Robert C. Rizzo, PhD, of Stony Brook University, will get “hits” from computational work. They will send small sets of molecules to be synthesized to Jacobs’ lab, where students will do all the experimental work.
Throughout her career, Jacobs has made the training and mentoring of young scientists a priority.
She has gone out of her way to include women and minorities in her lab since an adviser told her, as an undergraduate, that biochemistry was not a field for women.
Undergraduate, medical student and postdoctoral women and minorities will have the opportunity to participate in research in the Jacobs lab, where they will receive educational training in the use of computational and experimental tools.
Undergraduates can apply through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA) database.