A research team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has established a mouse model for testing of vaccines and therapeutics to battle Zika virus.
The new model of Zika virus infection, along with another recently identified by scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch, are the first to be developed since 1976. The earlier models were not as clinically relevant because the infections were generated by injecting the virus directly into the brain. In the new models, infection occurs via the skin, much like the bite of the mosquito that spreads the virus.
The ongoing Zika virus outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean has created an urgent need for identifying small animal models as a first step toward developing vaccines and treatments to fight the infection. The infection has been linked to microcephaly, a condition in which infants are born with unusually small heads and brain damage. In adults, the virus is thought to be related to rare cases of Guillian-Barré syndrome, an illness that can cause temporary paralysis.
“Now that we know the mice can be vulnerable to Zika infection, we can use the animals to test vaccines and therapeutics – and some of those studies are already underway – as well as to understand the pathogenesis of the virus,” said senior author Michael Diamond, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine at Washington University.
For the new study, researchers in Diamond’s laboratory, led by first author Helen Lazear, PhD, now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tested five strains of the Zika virus in the mice: the original strain acquired from Uganda in 1947; three strains that circulated in Senegal in the 1980s; and the French Polynesian strain, which caused infections in 2013 and is nearly identical to the strain causing the current outbreak. All yielded similar results in the animals, suggesting that there may not be much difference in the pathogenicity between individual strains, at least in this mouse model. Tests with the viral strains from the current Zika outbreak are ongoing.
Read the full story in the SOURCE: New mouse model to aid testing of Zika vaccine, therapeutics