Solving the Zika Puzzle

While the Olympic Games at Rio have closed and the Northern Hemisphere heads into winter, researchers in laboratories around the world continue to urgently pursue a vaccine for the Zika virus, which has had devastating effects on those people infected with the virus in more than 60 countries and territories.

 

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Despite various mosquito control efforts, the race to the solve the  puzzle is a race to find the vaccine. Zika vaccine researchers are relying heavily on three decades of HIV vaccine research infrastructure that could quickly pivot to Zika research and expedite Phase 1 clinical trials. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has announced five Phase 1 clinical trials that have commenced or will begin shortly.

 

To gather data on the epidemic, in January the National Institutes of Health (NIH) expedited the review process for research programs into Zika in January, and by August had awarded 16 grants. This data is urgently needed to assess the spread of the virus and its effects. The Zika in Infants and Pregnancy study was launched in June to track potentially 10,000 pregnant women in endemic countries, a collaboration with the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

 

Researchers agree that solving the Zika puzzle will require unprecedented collaboration between researchers around the globe. Eager to avoid the mistakes of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s when the virus was slow to gain recognition and research interest, David O’Conner, PhD, at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health began first a collaborative chat room for researchers to discuss the virus and quickly moved towards using a collaborative platform to openly share real-time research data, which was accessed by users in more than 98 countries.

 

In the intervening time, each breakthrough discovery, such as that the Zika infection is caused by one virus serotype, and clues as to how the virus crosses the placental barrier, has become another puzzle piece in the challenge of finding an effective virus and preventing further transmission.

 

Speaking of Zika, remember the olympics?

 

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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.