The Society of Federal Health Professionals, referred to as AMSUS, provides awards each year to outstanding research achievements and exceptional research professionals. For 2021-2022, the Research and Development Award recognizes Xiankun (Kevin) Zeng, MS, PhD, a molecular biologist and principal investigator in the Pathology Division, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).
Zeng investigates the molecular pathology of infectious diseases by using cutting-edge molecular and imaging techniques.
At the beginning of the pandemic, he said, we did not have many laboratories in the U.S. that had the proper diagnostic tools to detect COVID-19 in tissues.
Zeng was the first researcher to develop and validate highly reliable and sensitive molecular pathology assays (or diagnostic tools) to detect SARS-CoV-2 infection in tissue samples during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The assays directly supported animal model development and preclinical evaluation of vaccines and therapeutics against COVID-19.
The research paper reporting these assays was published in JCI Insight, a scholarly journal published by American Society for Clinical Investigation, and was the first SARS-CoV-2 publication from USAMRIID. Since the publication of that paper, Zeng has collaborated with scientists and pathologists at 11 institutes worldwide, highlighting the international impact of his work.
He collaborates in his research with scientists from the King’s College Hospital in the United Kingdom; University of Zurich in Switzerland, and Canada, and in the U.S. with researchers from Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University. The number of study teams he works with is more than 10.
The development of these assays was a cornerstone in SARS-CoV-2 research because it enabled studies that map the pathogenesis of the COVID-19 virus, as well as the development of mouse, hamster, and nonhuman primate infection models.
Infection models are critical in the research and development of medical countermeasures such as vaccines and therapeutics, including a current Army vaccine candidate in clinical trials. Without these diagnostic techniques, research in all of these areas would have been significantly hindered. In addition to the previously mentioned study, Zeng has published 12 more papers on SARS-CoV-2 since the pandemic begun. His research on Ebola virus, Marburg virus, Nipah virus, and Lassa virus has been published in prestigious research journals such as Nature Review Microbiology, Lancet Infectious Diseases, Nature Microbiology, Science Translational Medicine, and Cell Host & Microbe. Zeng is also a leading expert on Ebola virus infection.
Zeng commented regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. “As more people get vaccinated,” he said, “I am confident we can win this battle pretty soon.”
Since 1969, USAMRIID has served as the DOD’s lead laboratory for medical biological defense research. Although their core mission is to protect the warfighter from biological threats, they also investigate disease outbreaks and threats to public health. Research conducted at USAMRIID leads to medical solutions, including therapeutics, vaccines, diagnostics, and information, that benefit both military personnel and civilians. USAMRIID is a subordinate laboratory of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, which in turn is subordinate to Army Futures Command.
USAMRIID's research, development, testing and evaluation efforts have resulted in the development of medical countermeasures against the following biological threats: anthrax, botulism, plague, Ebola and Marburg hemorrhagic fevers, Hantavirus, ricin toxin, and staphylococcal enterotoxin B.