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NIH Grant to Prof. Sharon Crary Will Support Faculty-Student Research on Ebola Virus

April 27, 2004

April 27, 2004, Greencastle, Ind. - Sharon M. Crary, assistant professor of chemistry at DePauw University, is the recipient of a $179,400 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award will support research by Sharon and her students for the next three years in a project entitled, "Initiation of Nucleocapsid Assembly in Ebola Virus."

"My students and I are interested in understanding the details of an essential step in the lifecycle of Ebola virus," Dr. Crary says. "Infection with Ebola virus causes a hemorrhagic fever (EHF) with case fatality ratios among the highest of any known communicable disease. EHF was first identified in 1976, when simultaneous epidemics of a hemorrhagic fever occurred in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). Epidemics are primarily limited to Africa but cases of EHF in non-human primates have occurred in the Philippines, Italy and the United States. With no available antiviral therapies for EHF, patient isolation, which provides no hope to the afflicted individual, remains the only effective means of dealing with an epidemic of Ebola virus."

The professor continues, "In order for the virus to replicate, its genomic RNA must interact with a particular protein called the nucleocapsid protein. We are working towards the delineation of the RNA-protein interactions that govern this essential step in the viral lifecycle."

Crary says, "I'm really quite lucky, because it has been very easy to establish my research lab and to write an interesting, fundable grant proposal because of the tremendous support, both physically and intellectually, that DePauw provides for scientific research." She adds, "Currently, second-year student John Kihlken works with me in the lab. It's wonderful getting to work with undergraduates as they are beginning to learn about research. I enjoy teaching the technical details and also working through the basic concepts together. This summer three students will work full-time in my lab, and an additional student will work part-time. All of these students will be rising juniors so they will have the opportunity to continue to work on our research project for several years if they are interested. In addition, they will have gained lab experience that will help them to obtain research positions in future summers at more research-focused institutions if they desire."

The professor stresses that her research does not utilize any infectious particles or agents. "In fact, Ebola virus is a highly regulated virus and it would be impossible for us legally and ethically to work with any form of replicating Ebola virus outside of a biosafety level four containment facility," Crary says. "Instead, we set up model experiments in which only particular, non-infectious molecules from the virus are used."