3 things to know about Zika research in primate labs

While typical primate research is slow and secretive, the opposite is true when it comes to Zika research. Primate researchers have fast tracked their Zika programs as the number of pregnant women infected continues to grow and the looming promise of local transmission in the U.S. approaches.

A recent article in STAT examined Zika research in macaque monkeys. Here are three things to know about ongoing Zika research in primate labs.

1. Sharing data: David O'Connor, PhD, leader of the Zika project at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, began publishing his research online so other researchers could see it and thereby avoid experimental redundancies and vaccine makers could check the data for real-time updates. Dr. O'Connor's actions galvanized others in the primate research world to share their data on Zika.

2. Findings: Dr. O'Connor's team found that in male and non-pregnant female macaques, the infection is beaten back from the blood by the immune system in just a few days' time. However, in pregnant females, the presence of the virus in the blood continued. The persistent detectability of Zika in pregnant primates could be the result of a compromised maternal immune system, or the placenta and fetus could have become infected and began regenerating the virus in the blood stream. Zika researchers in the U.S. have found that the virus can linger in the lymph nodes, spleen, joint tissues, the spinal cord and the sciatic nerve after it has left the blood.

3. Resolve: The pace of Zika research is exhausting.

"The last six months will go down as the most stressful ever in the 10-plus years I've had a lab," Dr. O'Connor told STAT. Still, Dr. O'Connor and his team expressed exhilaration about the work and a general obsession regarding the mysterious disease.

While discussing the devastations of other infectious diseases, Brock Bakke — a grad student on Dr. O'Connor's team —attempted to sum up the special attention the scientific community is devoting to the Zika fight.

Mr. Bakke said, "A bunch of scientists were like, 'You can kill millions of us, you can give us cancer. But don't mess with our babies.'"

More articles on the Zika virus: 
CDC official: Zika is the 'most difficult' emergency response ever 
Infographic: Where in the US have Zika cases been reported? [June 24 update]  
Amid tumult on the floor, House passes $1.1 billion in Zika funds 

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