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Fighting the Flu at OSU

Fri, January 27, 2017
Veterinary Medicine

Li’s project aims to make virus far less lethal


The flu is among the Centers for Disease Control’s top 10 causes of human deaths. Oklahoma State University is working to make the virus far less lethal.

At OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, Shitao Li, Ph.D., is conducting biomedical research to develop new antiviral drugs to combat the flu virus.

“The fl virus is a highly transmissible pathogen that can cause epidemics and sometimes pandemics like the swine flu in 2009,” says Li, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiological Sciences and investigator with the Oklahoma Center for Respiratory and Infectious Diseases. “The virus is also zoonotic, which means it infects not only humans but animals as well, such as poultry, pigs, horses, etc. So this study will benefit human health as well as have a great impact on agriculture.”

Li joined OSU in 2015. During his first  year, he made great progress in establishing his laboratory and moving forward with his research. His team includes Lingyan Wang, Ph.D., postdoctoral candidate, and Girish Patil, a first-year graduate student.

“Currently we are working on the interaction between the fl virus and the host defense,” Li adds. “Specifically, we are studying the protein interactions between the host and the virus. We found that more than 300 host factors actually interact with the fl virus. So now we are focusing on one protein named PKP2. PKP2 is known as a cell junction protein, and now we find it is also an antiviral protein.”

Li’s team found that this protein restricts the virus by inhibiting the viral polymerase activity. 

“In other words, PKP2 impedes viral replication and prevents the virus from spreading. Interestingly, PKP2 has a peptide which mimics one viral polymerase subunit, PB2,” he says. “This peptide competes with PB2 for binding to other viral polymerase subunits, thereby disrupting the viral replication machinery. Now we are examining the antiviral efficacy of this peptide in human cells and mice.”

Li’s project is still far from clinical studies, but the preliminary results are promising.

“Before we test the peptide in mice, we will examine the effects of the peptide on viral infection in the tissue culture that includes human cells and mouse cells,” he says. “Currently, we are testing only one peptide and may modify this peptide in the future.

“With so many people affected by the flu virus, the most important thing in my lab is to discover new host defenses to the virus infection,” says Li. “We are grateful to the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program under Dr. Lin Liu. The challenge for research is finding the funding, which a CoBRE grant has provided.

The program includes funding and administrative support as well. I have two mentors in Drs. Liu and Clint Jones. As a junior faculty member, I appreciate their guidance on writing proposals, how to recruit students and how to train them. I really appreciate their help and support.”

Originally from China, Li earned his Ph.D. from Wuhan University in 2000. He plans to submit more proposals to continue funding his research.

Derinda Blakeney, APR

For more information on OSU’s biomedical research, visit

Phil Shockley / University Marketing

Dr. Shitao Li and graduate student Girish Patil discuss OSU’s biomedical research. 

photo / Derinda Blakeney

“This study will benefit human health as well as have a great impact on agriculture.” — Shitao Li, Ph.D.

Li receives NIH grant
Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Shitao Li has received $813,438 as a co-investigator on a National Institutes of Health Research Project (R01) grant.

Li’s project is entitled, “Interferon-induced IFITM recruitment of ZMPSTE24 blocks viral endocytic entry.” Since virus entry is the first step of infection, impeding viruses at the entry point is important to help defend against their spread. Li’s proposal presents the discovery of a broad-spectrum antiviral protein that blocks virus entry.

Li, who holds a doctorate in developmental biology from China’s Wuhan University, is an assistant professor in the Department of Physiological Sciences and an investigator with the Oklahoma Center for Respiratory and Infectious Diseases.

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Article content provided via Vet Cetera | The official magazine of the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, Oklahoma State University.

Vet Cetera magazine is a publication of the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.The Center for Veterinary Health Sciences graduates competent, confident, practice-ready veterinarians — a tradition it has proudly carried forward since the day the veterinary college opened its doors 66 years ago.

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