A $550,000 grant from the Dan L. Duncan family has been given to the Houston Zoo and Baylor College of Medicine elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHV) research collaboration. EEHV is a deadly threat to Asian elephant populations, both managed and free ranging, worldwide.

The announcement was made at the close of the 7th Annual International EEHV Workshop held in Houston. The event is sponsored by The International Elephant Foundation, The Elephant Manager's Association and the Houston Zoo.

Sustaining elephant population

"Finding a treatment or cure for EEHV is crucial to the sustainability of Asian elephant populations, not only in zoos but in many wild herds. This grant from the Duncan family in honor of the late Dan L. Duncan will provide critical funding to support the collaboration's ongoing EEHV research. We are honored and deeply grateful," said Rick Barongi, Houston Zoo Director.

Out of the Houston Zoo/BCM collaboration a rapid test has been developed that specifically diagnoses EEHV in elephants as well as a better understanding of the disease. Researchers now believe that all Asian elephants, captive and wild, regardless of geographic location harbor certain types of herpes viruses.

Effective treatments

In addition, the BCM research team is working to identify which human anti-herpesvirus drugs are most effective for treating EEHV-associated disease. Together with the BCM Human Genome Sequencing Center, they are also determining the sequence and genomic structure of this novel virus.

"Identifying which human anti-herpesvirus drugs are effective for treating EEHV is a high priority for our research team and we are hopeful that our findings will significantly improve the survival rate of affected juvenile elephants," said Dr. Paul Ling, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology at BCM.

During the 7th Annual International EEHV workshop, participants re-affirmed their commitment to unraveling the epidemiology of the disease, developing a more sensitive and rapid diagnostic test, improved herd screening, more effective treatments, and ultimately a vaccine to protect young elephants from this deadly virus. Workshop participants also reaffirmed that continued breeding of Asian elephants is critical to their physiological and psychological well-being.