Zika infects lab brain cells, strengthens link to microcephaly

Scientists are trying to figure out how Zika virus may be affecting fetuses.

Other types of fetal cells injected with the virus were unaffected, suggesting that Zika specifically targets the cortex as it is forming.

Lead author Hengli Tang said that they’re trying to fill the knowledge gap between infection and the neurological defects, adding “This research is the very first step in that, but it’s answering a critical question”.

Colombian health officials last week reported a “probable” case of microcephaly possibly linked to Zika in an aborted fetus.

A Zika virus-laden mosquito bite may infect and kill a type of brain cell, vital for the development of the brain, says a new study conducted in lab grown human cells.

They found that 90 percent of the cortical neural progenitor cells were infected in just three days of exposure to the virus.

Noting more confirmatory epidemiologic data is still needed from Zika endemic areas, Alyssa Stephenson-Famy, assistant professor at the University of Washington, said: “This is exactly the kind of research that we need to demonstrate a causative link and mechanism between the Zika virus and microcephaly”.

The Colombian Collaborative Network on Zika, the group of researchers that diagnosed the children, is also investigating several more possible cases of microcephaly with a suspected link to Zika, Nature reported. It does appear the Zika virus causes severe birth defects.

Brazil has become the epicenter of the outbreak, but Florida now has more than four dozen cases of confirmed infections, including four pregnant women.

The Zika virus has been said to be a great risk to women who are pregnant due to the risk of being born with a birth defect called microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with unusually small heads.

This week CDC Dr. Tom Frieden cautioned that Zika will spread in the U.S. Infected human neural progenitor cells were found to release infectious Zika virus particles.

The Missouri man is believed to have contracted the virus while traveling in the Caribbean nation of Haiti, a known area of Zika transmission.

“By April we’re likely to see widespread transmission in Puerto Rico and, by June, mosquito season is likely to start in parts of the U.S, where the mosquito that can cause Zika is present”, he said.

“We hope our results will help educate the public and government decision makers because they need to have more information on this virus, and we have to take it seriously”, Song said.

The scientists concluded that Zika infection during pregnancy has “grave outcomes, including fetal death, placental insufficiency, fetal growth, restriction, and [central nervous system] involvement”, the journal said. 

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