FSU researchers discover possible link between Zika and birth defects


  • Photo by James Gathany of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Researchers at Florida State University say they've discovered new evidence that shows the mosquito-borne Zika virus directly targets brain development cells, hindering their growth.

Brazil, the current epicenter of the virus outbreak, has 4,863 suspected and confirmed cases of microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to be born with smaller heads and brains. Brazilian health officials have linked the birth defects to Zika, but research still needs to be done to prove the virus is responsible. 

The new study published this week shows Zika "targets a cell type called human embryonic cortical neural progenitors in as little as three days after being exposed to the virus," according to a news release from FSU. Researchers also found the infected cells reproduce the virus, and that Zika disrupts cell growth and function. 

“We’re trying to fill the knowledge gap between infection and the neurological defects,” says FSU professor Hengli Tang, who is also the lead author of the study. “This research is the very first step in that, but it’s answering a critical question. It enables us to focus the research. Now you can be studying the virus in the right cell type, screening your drugs on the right cell type and studying the biology of the right cell type.”

As of Thursday, 47 travel-related cases of the Zika virus are currently in Florida, and three of those cases are in Orange County, according to the Florida Department of Health. Four cases in Florida have involved pregnant women. 

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at feedback@orlandoweekly.com.

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.