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Zika on the Brain

Original article featured on BioTech Primer

THE LATEST ON THE RISE OF ZIKA

The spread of the Zika virus is raising alarm bells in the United States, and Congress has yet to pass any legislation to combat the fight. Zika infections reported in Miami confirm the virus’ stateside arrival, pushing residents to take measures to protect their pregnancies from potentially devastating effects. In our previous issue, we explored the underpinnings of Zika: it is linked to microcephaly, in which babies are born with brains significantly smaller than normal.

New reports state the disease is sexually transmissible, persisting in those infected for up to six months. This has quickly turned into a public health crisis, with the FDA recently recommending universal testing of all donated blood across the US. As the wrath of Zika continues to migrate onward, today’s WEEKLY showcases the latest developments surrounding this mosquito-borne virus.

ZIKA ON THE BRAIN

Two recent studies on the basic science of Zika discuss how the virus may impact brain cells called human neuronal stem cells—the same cells found in developing fetal brains. Yale University (New Haven, CT) researchers demonstrated that the Zika virus infects lab-grown human neuronal stem cells, disrupting their reproduction and leading to cell death. By interacting with a cellular protein called TBK1, Zika prevents cells from organizing during cell division—suggesting a cause and effect for newborn microcephaly.

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