Associated Partner, BSL4, Non EU

Website Facebook Twitter

University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB): World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses (WRCEVA)
The WRCEVA is located on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, U.S.A. The WRCEVA serves as a virus reference center for the world. Any virus suspected of being biologically transmitted by arthropods or animals is accepted for identification and characterization. A collection of more than 6,500 virus strains is maintained with complementary sera and diagnostic antigens. In addition to arthropod-transmitted viruses, a number of other non vector-borne vertebrate viruses (i.e. paramyxoviruses, orthomyxoviruses, filoviruses, coronaviruses, hantaviruses, arenaviruses, picornaviruses and rhabdoviruses) together with their respective antigens and antisera are also included in the reference collection. Recently, a number on insect-specific viruses have also been added to the collection.

The WRCEVA is a direct outgrowth of the worldwide network of laboratories, established by the Rockefeller Foundation, to study the role of arthropod-borne viruses in producing human and animal disease and the mechanisms by which these viruses are maintained and transmitted in nature. When this program was initiated at the Rockefeller Foundation Virus Laboratories in New York City in 1951, fewer than 28 arboviruses had been described; and only a few, such as yellow fever, the encephalitides, and dengue were known to cause serious disease in humans. Concurrent with the initiation of the Rockefeller Foundation program, the U.S. Army, Navy, Public Health Service and a number of other countries also established arbovirus laboratories and field research programs. This network of field laboratories largely relied on the Foundation’s central virus reference laboratory in New York until 1964, when the central laboratory and some of the Rockefeller staff were moved to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Yale Arbovirus Research Unit (YARU) was established. In 1995, Drs. Robert Tesh and Robert Shope moved from YARU to the Center for Tropical Diseases (now renamed Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases) at UTMB in Galveston and brought the reference collection with them. The decision to establish the Reference Center at UTMB was based in part on the willingness of the University of Texas to provide modern state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and space, including BSL-3 and BSL-4 containment facilities, for working with these potentially hazardous agents.

The WRCEVA at UTMB provides analysis of disease outbreaks as well as identification of new and emerging viruses to agencies around the world; it also serves the world research community with basic certification of arboviruses and arboviral reagents. The extensive arbovirus reference collection maintained at the Center differs from culture collections like that of the American Type Culture Collection in several ways. First, the collection is not static; new virus strains are continually being archived. Second, instead of having just the prototype or several well-characterized strains of each known virus, there are many different strains of arboviruses of medical and veterinary importance (i.e. dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, West Nile, eastern equine encephalitis, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis). An effort has been made to collect representative strains of these viruses from a variety of sources, geographic localities and time periods. This diversity has proven extremely useful in studies of arbovirus emergence, evolution, pathogenesis, and biodefense. Third, the WRCEVA collection also contains a number of viruses that are still unidentified or that have never been well characterized.

Since 1971, the World Reference Center has been supported by grants and contracts from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Since 1995, the University of Texas has also provided extensive in-house support to the Reference Center. Robert Tesh, M.D. Professor of Pathology and a member of the Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, is the current Director of the WRCEVA. Thomas Ksiazek, D.V.M, Ph.D., serves as the Deputy Director.