Meerut: Devika Sirohi, 29, a doctoral student at Purdue University in the United States, is the youngest member of a team of seven researchers which has, for the first time, determined the structure of the Zika virus. The breakthrough is revealing insights crucial for the development of effective treatments for the deadly disease.
Sirohi, born and brought up in Meerut, spoke to TOI about the intense work that lay behind the breakthrough. “It took us four months to identify the structure of the virus. Out of the seven-member team, three were professors and four students, including me. During the period of the research, we barely slept for two to three hours a day, but our hard work finally paid off. This discovery will help doctors and researchers to find a cure for the deadly disease that has been reported in 33 countries,” she said.
Determining the structure of the virus was a major hurdle for researchers, and the team’s find, Sirohi said, would now make it possible to create effective anti-viral treatments and vaccines. The seven-member team included Sirohi, postdoctoral research associates Zhenguo Chen, Lei Sun and Thomas Klose; biological sciences professor Michael G Rossmann, Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases director Richard J Kuhn, and Theodore C Pierson, chief of the viral pathogenesis section of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“When I first arrived in the US, I never expected to achieve this much. It has been five years now since I started my doctoral research and I will submit my thesis by the end of this year. The entire journey of discovering the structure of Zika was full of challenges, but all is well that ends well. Now that the structure has been determined, it will be easier to research further and combat the spread of the disease,” said Sirohi, based in West Lafayette near Chicago and pursuing PhD in ‘Structure and Maturation of Flaviviruses’.
The Meerut girl completed her schooling from the city-based Dayawati Modi Academy. She went on to pursue honours in biochemistry from Delhi University and MSc from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. Both her parents are citybased doctors; her mother, Reena, being a pediatrician. Elated by her success, her father, SS Sirohi, a pathologist who lives in Delhi’s Defence Colony, said, “It is a matter of pride not only for my family, because she is my daughter, but for the whole country that an Indian was part of the team that made this breakthrough.”