The University of Miami has received a $13 million grant from the Florida Department of Health to fund Zika-related research, including rapid testing and assessments of infants with mothers who have the virus, the university announced Wednesday.
The health department distributed $25 million in grants to 10 applicants for 34 different research studies. Last fall, Gov. Rick Scott made funds available to research the mosquito-borne disease and help develop a vaccine.
Mario Stevenson, the chief of the infectious diseases division at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, said getting the grant was “huge.”
“Researchers have been struggling to find ways to fund Zika-related studies,” said Stevenson, an internationally known HIV/AIDS researcher.
With the grant, Stevenson said UM scientists can work on better diagnostic tools including rapid testing, and home in on studies specific to pregnant women. The school will also continue to develop innovative ways to cure the Zika virus.
After a competitive process and recommendations from the Biomedical Research Advisory Council at the DOH, UM received the largest share. Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Florida State universities and the Moffitt Cancer Center and Scripps Research Institute also received grants.
On Tuesday, Scott rolled out a proposed $84 billion state budget that includes $2.9 billion in the coming fiscal year, beginning July 1, for the health department to fund more scientists and more Zika research.
While the number of locally acquired cases of the virus — which is primarily spread through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito and poses the greatest risk for pregnant women — has dwindled during the winter, it is expected to rise again.