US researchers find possible biomarkers for Zika-related birth defects

6 November 2018 (Last Updated November 6th, 2018 10:35)

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) in the US have discovered potential Zika biomarkers related to severe birth defects in babies who are born to women infected with the virus.

US researchers find possible biomarkers for Zika-related birth defects
Aedes mosquitoes can spread the Zika virus. Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim.

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) in the US have discovered potential Zika biomarkers related to severe birth defects in babies who are born to women infected with the virus.

The majority of infected patients do not show symptoms or have mild illness with low-grade fever. However, foetuses exposed to the virus are at risk of neurological defects, including microcephaly.

The team expects the latest finding to help in developing screening tests for the virus, and offer better insights into the mechanism behind the infection leading to foetal abnormalities.

USC Keck School of Medicine Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology research associate Suan-Sin Foo said: “The highest risk of birth defects is from Zika virus infection during the first and second trimester. A prenatal test has the potential to relieve the concerns of many expectant mothers.”

“The team expects the latest finding to help in developing screening tests for the virus, and offer better insights into the mechanism behind the infection leading to foetal abnormalities.”

The researchers compared blood samples from 30 Zika-infected pregnant women in Brazil to those from 30 healthy pregnant women in Brazil and 14 in Los Angeles, US.

Through these blood samples, the team assessed their immune systems, particularly the cytokines generated by the body in response to an infection.

Amongst a panel of 69 cytokines screened, 16 appeared to be associated with Zika-induced abnormal births. However, further research is necessary to determine if the messenger chemicals cause birth defects or are secreted in response to other factors.

Keck School of Medicine’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology research associate Weiqiang Chen noted that the findings offer a Zika biomarkers panel that may potentially enable the future prediction of associated foetal outcomes via testing of the mother’s blood.

The research findings have been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight.