UC Berkeley & UC San Francisco Discover How Zika Virus Infects the Fetus


Authorities around the world are constantly finding ways to defeat and stop the spread of the Zika virus, particularly in preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

While Vanderbilt University was busy with studying mosquito taste buds, the researchers at University of California Berkeley and San Francisco were mapping out how the Zika virus infects the fetus.

While many patients infected by the Zika virus can expect full recovery in a few weeks, pregnant women are more vulnerable to the virus as it attacks the fetus, resulting in the development of birth defects like microcephaly.

The university researchers have also found an antibiotic to combat the infection from the virus.

The study, “Zika Virus Targets Different Primary Human Placental Cells, Suggesting Two Routes for Vertical Transmission” was done by Takako Tabata, Matthew Petitt, Henry Puerta-Guardo, Daniela Michlmayr, Chunling Wang, June Fang-Hoover, Eva Harris, and Lenore Pereira, and was published yesterday in the Cell Host and Microbe journal.

Consecutive studies on Zika were propelled by the fact that the virus is slowly spreading from Latin America to the United States of America.

According to the study, the Zika virus has two routes it takes to infect a fetus: a placental route (in the first trimester), and one through the amniotic sac (in the second trimester).

The paper revealed that an antibiotic called duramycin can block infection in the placental cells.

This antibiotic can stop the spread of the new strains of the Zika virus.

Eva Harris, one of the authors of the study and a professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said that duramycin (an older-generation antibiotic) and other similar drugs have the power to prevent birth defects by stopping the transmission of the virus from the mother to the fetus.

Duramycin is commonly used in animals and by patients with cystic fibrosis. It is a bacteria-produced agent meant to fight other bacteria.

It’s not just for the Zika virus, though.

According to other studies that conducted cell structure experiments, duramycin is effective against dengue, West Nile virus, and even viruses like Ebola.

UC San Francisco’s Lenore Pereira, a virologist and professor of cell and tissue biology in the university’s School of Dentistry, said that not many viruses can cause birth defects, but their findings reveal how those few viruses reach the fetus.

This discovery will make it easier for future medical experts to develop treatment to block such infection.

The researchers examined the Zika virus in isolated cells and intact tissue explants.

They found out that the virus could infect many, different cell types inside and outside the placenta in the fetal membranes.

They also learned that the epithelial cells of the amniotic membrane surrounding the fetus were very susceptible to the virus.

Pereira said that this supports their theory on the virus spreading infection through the membranes around the fetus.

Knowing this means that scientists and doctors should focus their efforts on the placental cell types across the membranes independently of the placenta.

While most of the birth defects stem from the infection during the first and second trimester, other defects might occur in the later stages of pregnancy.

Rob Clark

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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