Tick Borne Hemorrhagic Fever Research


Welcome! This is the homepage of Bente Lab, a research group located at the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB. The Bente Lab includes faculty and students led by Dr. Dennis Bente.  The team has the unique opportunity to study ticks and the diseases they carry and transmit.  Their research is currently focused on dangerous viruses known as hemorrhagic fevers. 

Because there are currently no cures for hemorrhagic fevers, the research must be conducted in high containment laboratories  — Biosafety Level 4 (BSL4) Laboratories — where scientists are protected by elaborately constructed facilities and by wearing “spacesuits” that supply breathing air and protect them from exposure.  These precautions allow the team to work with ticks, animal models, and the viruses themselves.

The term “hemorrhagic fever” became fairly well known in 2014 with the West African Ebola outbreak. The Bente Lab is focused on studying Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF).  Team members aim to understand how the viruses cause disease, with a special focus on the pathogenesis of CCHF.

Tick-borne hemorrhagic fever viruses belong to the families Bunyaviridae and Flavivirdae and circulate in nature in an enzootic tick-vertebrate-tick cycle. Interestingly, these viruses typically cause a severe hemorrhagic syndrome in humans, but not in their vertebrate animal host. The pathogenesis of the disease has been difficult to study because outbreaks are sporadic, and because of the need to work in high containment laboratories to safely study the virus. 

According to Dr. Bente, “We recently developed a new animal model that mimics human disease, and we are currently trying to define what mechanisms lead to disease. This model also gives us the opportunity to study vaccines and antiviral countermeasures. Furthermore, we are studying virulence by comparing different Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus strains in primary human cells.”

In a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Wikel, Dr. Bente and his team are currently establishing an in vivo feeding assay, in which Hyalomma ticks, the main vector of CCHF, feed on a mouse model.  This assay will closely mimic the natural infection cycle to learn about the tick-virus-host interrelationship.