May 2, 2019

Working together is always better—especially when it comes to curing infectious diseases. That’s why the National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) across the country are collaborating to tackle the deadly Zika virus with a series of studies.

In one study, researchers at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) discovered that Zika may still affect fetuses that show no signs of gross microcephaly (an abnormally small head), a common symptom of the disease. Four rhesus macaques were infected with Zika on days 41, 50, 64 and 90 of gestation, respectively. The macaque infected after 41 days experienced fetal death within a week, and the fetuses of the others showed brain calcifications and reduced brain cells—all without significantly reduced brain size.

An additional study at the CNPRC recently showed that infection of the fetuses of pregnant rhesus macaques produced brain lesions like those in human newborns with Zika. The models developed from these studies at the CNPRC can be used across study locations to examine more viruses and prevention methods.

During another study, Zika data from several of the NPRCs were compiled to show that the virus may cause a greater rate of miscarriage than previously thought in humans. Of nonhuman primates infected with Zika in early pregnancy, 26 percent experienced miscarriage or stillbirth even though they showed few signs of infection. Human studies have found that about five percent of women known to be infected with Zika do not carry to term or have stillbirths. This suggests that, in areas where Zika is prevalent, the number of virus-related miscarriages and stillbirths may be underestimated.

These studies show the benefits of taking a highly collaborative approach to research, which is a priority at the NPRCs. Through close communication and teamwork, our researchers are continuing to make breakthroughs to improve worldwide health.

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