April 10, 2018

The effects of Zika on an adult are upsetting enough, but the impact it can have on unborn children and newborns is heart wrenching, which is why researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center have made studying Zika virus a priority.

One of the most common consequences of Zika infecting an unborn child is microcephaly – a birth defect that leaves the baby with an unusually small head and undersized brain. It can be fatal, and infants who survive usually face intellectual disabilities and developmental delays.

When researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in collaboration with colleagues at Emory University School of Medicine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta wondered whether contracting the disease early after birth had the same effect, they noted some small, but important distinctions. For example, the disease did not appear to affect vision or visual memory.

“This gives us hope that in our future work, we can find ways to limit Zika’s effect on the developing brain,” said Ann Chahroudi, MD, PhD, the study’s lead researcher.

For now, because there is lasting damage to the nervous system and areas of the brain, the research team recommends more than just routine monitoring for pediatric patients known to be infected with Zika.

The researchers hope further work with the monkey model will allow them to study in more detail the effects of postnatal Zika virus infection on the brain and give them opportunities to test therapies for alleviating or even preventing the neurologic consequences of Zika virus infection.

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