Gomez and Hafenstein awarded collaborative grant to study virus structures

Mindy Krause
June 24, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Esther Gomez, assistant professor of chemical engineering and biomedical engineering in Penn State’s College of Engineering, and Susan Hafenstein, associate professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology in Penn State’s College of Medicine, have been awarded one of two Grace Woodward Grants for Collaborative Research in Engineering and Medicine for the 2016-17 project period.

The research pair, along with co-investigator Enrique Gomez, associate professor of chemical engineering, were awarded $50,000 for their proposal, “Examining the structure of coxsackievirus during cell entry processes using resonant soft X-ray scattering.”  

The study aims to examine coxsackievirus B3, a virus implicated with the onset of Type 1 diabetes mellitus in children and serious heart disease in adults, by use of resonant soft X-ray scattering (RSOXS).

RSOXS is a relatively new technology that works by tuning X-ray energy to examine assemblies with conventionally low measures of contrast. It has previously been used to study soft materials such as polymers and organic thin films, but has not yet been applied to the study of biological systems.

“The aim of the study is to understand the changes the virus must undergo to be able to enter the host,” said Hafenstein. “The virus capsid conformational changes represent a target for antivirals from which the virus likely cannot escape by mutation.”

Using RSOXS to measure the structural changes a virus undergoes during entry (the period in which healthy human cells become infected) will provide detailed information to the researchers. The studies will complement molecular biology and structural approaches including cryo-electron microscopy.

“The advantages of studying viruses with the RSOXS technique as opposed to traditional X-ray scattering is that we have the ability to differentiate between various components, such as the outer protein capsid versus RNA, and learn how the assemblies are put together,” said Esther Gomez. “The findings will help us determine how biological structures are related to their function, and how we can develop new therapies that will interfere with viral infection.”

The team is set to begin work on the project next month. Esther Gomez and Enrique Gomez will focus on RSOXS data collection with Hafenstein providing expertise in the area of structural virology. The group will work collaboratively between the University Park campus and the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

The Grace Woodward Grants for Collaborative Research in Engineering and Medicine are given annually by the College of Engineering and the College of Medicine, and are made possible by the support of endowments from the estate of Grace Woodward, a longtime friend and supporter of the University. The program is designed to encourage genuine collaborations between engineers and clinicians or biomedical scientists that involve either new avenues of research or the feasibility testing of new medical devices, instrumentation or other diagnostic or therapeutic modalities. 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 27, 2016