Zika virus Research

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In the 1940s, a Scottish scientist Alexander John Haddow studied rare viruses in the jungle outside Entebbe, Uganda. In 1947, he wrote a paper about a virus in the blood of a rhesus monkey that lived in the Zika Forest. This virus—which, like dengue fever and yellow fever, is transmitted to humans mostly by mosquitoes.

In 2012, Alexander John Haddow's grandson Andrew Haddow, who is a medical entomologist, published a paper on the genetic lineage of the Zika virus. Haddow identified two points of origin—one African, the other Asian—and showed that a recent outbreak on the island of Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, had been caused by the latter strain. His paper also warned that Zika might spread.

Researches from the University of South Australia who are working with biotech company Sementis developed a vaccine for Chikungunya virus. The researchers believe that the vaccine could be adapted to tackle the Zika virus. Pre-clinical studies have showed the vaccine to be 100% effective in treating Chikungunya. The researchers hope to extract genes from the Zika virus to create a safer version, which – when inserted in the body – would produce antibodies and create immunity.

On 12 February 2016, the World Health Organization said that ten biotech companies are close to providing a Zika diagnostic test and 10 others are developing them. A commercial Zika virus test to diagnose the virus could be made available within weeks. While in some tests, presence of Zika virus is detected, other tests rely on level of antibodies the body's immune system makes in response to Zika.

On 20 February 2016, Brazilian scientists have obtained the genome sequence of the Zika virus. They found that Zika is indeed related to the rise in cases of microcephaly in the country. The researchers at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro's molecular virology lab analyzed the virus taken from the amniotic fluid of pregnant women, and the scientists also isolated the virus in the brains of fetuses with microcephaly who died in Paraiba state in northeastern Brazil right after birth.

Scientists at TU Delft's Kavli Institute of Nanoscience and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg made the first film of a protein that plays a key role in the construction of new cells using DNA. The film sheds new light on the process that enables long strings of DNA molecules to be ‘folded up’ into a cell measuring a few micrometres and could also provide insight into the behaviour of the Zika virus, which is suspected of causing microcephaly, and other conditions that affect cell reproduction.

United States of America

University of Wisconsin-Madison
In February, it was announced that University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers will begin monkey studies of Zika virus. The researchers are using primates to study the Zika virus in a hope of developing a vaccine and understanding the impact of the virus on developing fetuses in pregnant women.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Researchers of the UW-Madison University will infect Zika virus in rhesus macaque monkeys. As many as 15 monkeys will be used in the study which includes six pregnant monkeys, two at each trimester of pregnancy. Amniotic fluid will be sampled to see if it contains the virus. Koen Van Rompay, a prominent HIV researcher, is leading the effort at UC Davis’ California National Primate Center.

They will test how long Zika virus persists in blood, urine and saliva; if infection protects against future exposure; and whether the stage of pregnancy in which infection occurs impacts the effects on offspring. The tests will be conducted in secure facilities at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center designed for the safe study of potentially harmful viruses. The scientists hope that the findings from the study could help in vaccine development and treatment of Zika virus.