The research road can often be long with slow cumulative results, but progress behind the scenes is what can make meaningful changes in healthcare protocols or treatments for diseases. And behind every research project is critical funding that makes it all happen.
To biomedical engineers like Elsje Pienaar, PhD, and biochemists like Robert Stahelin, PhD, funding is the lifeblood of research in understanding the characteristics of worldwide health issues that can ultimately lead to stopping the spread of a disease or a vaccine. They received funding in 2018 and 2016, respectively, from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) Project Development Teams to study the viral life cycles of viruses like Ebola and SARS-CoV-2.
Pienaar, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the Purdue University Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, said this important funding led to a peer-reviewed joint publication in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the ability to secure additional seed funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) that provide for even more comprehensive research studies through finding the necessary work of data collection and computational analysis.
“I think the work has provided a drastically improved view of how the Ebola virus forms a new virus particle from the human cell plasma membrane during infection,” said Stahelin, Retter Professor of Pharmacy and Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Purdue University, who collaborated with Pienaar on the research project. “Our computational, biophysical and biochemical approaches in this collaboration have led to a greatly improved understanding and a new hypothesis of how one viral protein gives way to a new viral particle.”
While Pienaar and Stahelin’s work on this project has been primarily on the Ebola virus, it has led to a model of how a virus hijacks a host cell to form its lipid bilayer envelope. The use of experimental data both in vitro and in cells was used to build computational models of virus assembly and budding (spread to other cells) that is fundamental to understanding how viruses such as influenza and SARS-CoV-2 spread from cell to cell.
“Those research and education objectives are enabling us to have a comprehensive understanding of Ebola virus biology using integrated computational and experimental research tools and a scientific workforce necessary to advance the interests of public health,” said Pienaar.