The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been devastating countries around the world and has been blamed for severe neurological birth defects. The Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly (an abnormally small head) and other neurological conditions. Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disease that causes a person’s immune system to damage nerve cells. It can cause muscle weakness and paralysis in some cases.
One of the hardest-hit countries, Brazil, is scheduled to be the site of the upcoming Olympic Games. This has prompted concerns among public health officials that Zika could spread to athletes and spectators.
Cloning the Zika Virus
A team of scientists at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have cloned the virus, which means it can now be made in test tubes and Petri dishes. The researchers infected mosquitoes and mice with the cloned Zika virus. The mice developed neurological illnesses after being infected.
Developing a Vaccine
The cloning of the virus could move researchers closer to their goal of developing a vaccine to prevent transmission of Zika. The researchers will be now able to produce the virus in large quantities. Scientists will be able to study and modify the virus to develop a vaccine. The genetically engineered virus can also be used to study the efficacy of vaccines after they are developed.
Several teams of scientists around the world are conducting research on Zika and working on a vaccine. Some researchers have already been studying the virus in mice to see how it behaves and to learn how it causes neurological disabilities. They hope that their research could lead to the development of a vaccine.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has made a trial vaccine for similar viruses that could be used to develop a Zika vaccine. The Jenner Institute has done trials of its vaccine with mice and hopes to hold clinical trials by next year.
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