Texas Zika Researchers Studying Infected Primates To Help Prevent Birth Defects

Dec 11, 2017

Scientists at Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio are using a type of primate to help prevent birth defects caused by the Zika virus.

Texas Biomed is using four marmosets as its animal model for Zika infection. Virologist Dr. Jean Patterson said Zika infection in marmosets is similar to that in humans.

“Like humans, they develop almost immediate Viremia — meaning they have virus in their blood — and, for the males, after the virus declines in blood it then goes into semen, saliva and blood,” she said.

Zika is primarily passed through mosquito bites but can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse in humans, as well as marmosets.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists Zika during pregnancy as a cause of microcephaly, in which a baby is born with a head much smaller than normal.

The next step after infecting male marmosets with the virus is to infect pregnant females to "help us identify where in a pregnancy you’re more likely to have difficulties and more likely to have difficulties to the fetus,” Patterson said.

Infecting pregnant marmosets could lead to a vaccine or drug that can block infection during pregnancy.  

“That’s a difficult thing because, as you know, giving pregnant women any kind of drug is always very risky, so we would have to determine if the risk of giving a drug would be better than not and that we could find a drug that could interfere with the infection,” she said.

The study also found the virus in the urine samples of marmosets. Patterson said if this can also be an indicator of infection in humans, urine testing might be more effective than blood tests.

Joey Palacios can be reached at joey@tpr.org or on Twitter @joeycules