Xiankun (Kevin) Zeng, Ph.D., a molecular biologist and principal investigator at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), is the recipient of the 2021-2022 Research and Development Award presented by AMSUS, the Society of Federal Health Professionals.
Zeng was honored during the AMSUS virtual annual meeting on Feb 24.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zeng was the first scientist to quickly develop and validate highly reliable and sensitive molecular pathology assays to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection in tissue samples. These assays proved to be a cornerstone of SARS-CoV-2 research, enabling scientists to perform natural history studies that mapped the disease course of this novel virus.
Importantly, Zeng’s research also supported USAMRIID’s ability to rapidly develop several COVID-19 animal models that successfully recapitulated human disease in mice, hamsters, and nonhuman primates. These models are essential for preclinical evaluation of vaccines, therapies, and diagnostic tools—an important step in the pathway to licensure by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
His research paper reporting these assays appeared in JCI Insight, a journal published by the American Society for Clinical Investigation, in 2020. It was the first of many SARS-CoV-2 publications from USAMRIID. Since then, Zeng has continued to collaborate with a dozen research teams worldwide, helping them to develop and validate their own SARS-CoV-2 assays.
“I am very honored and humbled to be receiving this award,” said Zeng, who has served with USAMRIID’s Pathology Division since May 2015. He previously worked as a research scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (Janelia Research Campus) after completing his postdoctoral research training at the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. He earned his Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Southeast University, China, in 2007.
In addition to his contributions to SARS-CoV-2 research, Zeng is a leading expert on persistent infection of other highly pathogenic viruses, such as Ebola virus, Marburg virus, Nipah virus, and Lassa virus. He has over 75 scientific publications to his credit, including 13 papers on SARS-CoV-2, and his research has been published in Nature, Nature Microbiology, Science Translational Medicine, and Cell Host & Microbe.
- Detailed analysis of the pathologic hallmarks of Nipah virus (Malaysia) disease in the African green monkey infected by the intratracheal route. PLoS ONE
- Ebola virus persistence and disease recrudescence in the brains of antibody-treated nonhuman primate survivors. Science Translational Medicine
- Hamsters Expressing Human Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 Develop Severe Disease following Exposure to SARS-CoV-2. mBio
- A SARS-CoV-2 ferritin nanoparticle vaccine elicits protective immune responses in nonhuman primates. Science Translational Medicine
- Remdesivir is efficacious in rhesus monkeys exposed to aerosolized Ebola virus. Scientific Reports
- Efficacy and breadth of adjuvanted SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain nanoparticle vaccine in macaques. PNAS
- African-Lineage Zika Virus Replication Dynamics and Maternal-Fetal Interface Infection in Pregnant Rhesus Macaques. Journal of Virology
- Comparison of three non-human primate aerosol models for glanders, caused by Burkholderia mallei. Microbial Pathogenesis
- Development of a coronavirus disease 2019 nonhuman primate model using airborne exposure. PLoS ONE
- Small animal jet injection technique results in enhanced immunogenicity of hantavirus DNA vaccines. Vaccine
- Comparative Pathology Study of Venezuelan, Eastern, and Western Equine Encephalitis Viruses in Non-human Primates. Antiviral Research