IOWA CITY, Iowa — MERS is a viral respiratory illness that was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is caused by the coronavirus, MERS-CoV, which can lead to severe pneumonia. According to statistics published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 30 percent of people confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection have died. Given the ability of coronaviruses to rapidly adapt to new hosts, a major public health concern is that MERS-CoV will further adapt to replication in humans, triggering a pandemic, according to the CDC. 
 
University of Iowa microbiology Professor Stanley Perlman and his colleagues have created a mouse model that provides receptors for the MERS virus. According to Perlman, testing of anti-viral therapies and vaccines often requires one or more animal models for validation and mouse infections are the ideal system for initial evaluations. The mice can then be used to determine antivirus immune responses and to evaluate anti-MERS-CoV vaccines and therapies. The team published its findings in spring 2014 and is currently working to develop improved mouse models that could lead to more functionality in studying the virus. The current mouse model is available to other researchers at academic institutions with a Materials Transfer Agreement. 
 
The coronavirus infects humans by binding to a protein, called DPP4, that is found on the surface of lung cells. The mouse version of DPP4 is different and this receptor does not bind to the coronavirus. This led Perlman and his team to enable gene delivery via an adenovirus, to which mice are more susceptible. 
 
The success of the gene delivery benchmarked this project.
 
“The most important thing was to see whether if we delivered this gene with the adenovirus there would be infection, and we knew last July that it would work,” Perlman said. 
 
“The mouse model is now available to other researchers at academic institutions under a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA). If a company would like to obtain the mouse model that requires a license which can be handled through the University of Iowa Research Foundation,” said Paul Dymerski, associate director of IP assessment. “If a company does not have approved laboratories and would like to perform work at a university laboratory the Division of Sponsored Programs would handle this request.” With time, the adenovirus that the team created has the possibility to lead to more advancement down the road.
 
“It has potential,” Perlman said. “It turns out that you not only can deliver a receptor for another virus but there are other things you can deliver, other kinds of gene information that make modulated infection. Thereby you learn how an infection causes disease, because that’s really the important thing, and second of all can you modulate that by delivering other genes from that new virus. There are things down the road that will be useful for this.”
 
To read more about the model that Perlman’s team created visit http://now.uiowa.edu/keywords/mers
 
By: Haley Hansel