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. He was recognized Feb. 24 at the organization’s virtual annual meeting.
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.
About the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases:
For over 53 years, USAMRIID has provided leading edge medical capabilities to deter and defend against current and emerging biological threat agents. The Institute is the only laboratory in the Department of Defense equipped to safely study highly hazardous viruses requiring maximum containment at Biosafety Level 4. Research conducted at USAMRIID leads to vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and training programs that protect both Warfighters and civilians. The Institute's unique science and technology base serves not only to address current threats to our Armed Forces, but is an essential element in the medical response to any future biological threats that may confront our nation. USAMRIID is a subordinate laboratory of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command. For more information, visit www.usamriid.army.mil.