This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Insights Into How the Zika Virus Affects Humans in Utero

A few days ago the San Diego Union had a front page headline detailing a study from researchers at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine that demonstrated how the Zika virus actually affects the brain an unborn child--for all the doubters out there who didn't believe the early stories of brain damage in utero from the Zika virus.
The Zika virus damages fetal brains by triggering an immune response that impairs development and causes some brain cells to die, according to a study from UC San Diego scientists.
Damage might be preventable by developing a drug that interferes with the immune reaction, said scientist led by senior author Tariq Rana, professor of pediatrics at UCSD School of Medicine.
The study, published Friday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, has unveiled one significant part of that mechanism, Rana said. It’s available online at: http://j.mp/zikatlr3.
Rana and colleagues didn't experiment on human brains, but on the nearest thing: 3D miniature brain "organoids" grown from human embryonic stem cells. The organoids feature many aspects of actual fetal brains, making them a good model for Zika's effect, Rana said.
A couple of days later, the NYTimes had a headline about the Zika virus that I assumed was based on the UCSD research, but no, it was about yet another study at The John Hopkins University that had also discovered a link between the Zika virus and fetal brain damage.
The laboratory’s initial breakthrough, published in March with researchers at two other universities, showed that the Zika virus attacked and killed so-called neural progenitor cells, which form early in fetal development and generate neurons in the brain.
In April, the team and other collaborators published a study in the journal Cell showing that this assault by Zika resulted in undersize brain organoids: Damaged progenitor cells created fewer neurons, leading to less brain volume.
That may explain the smaller brains and heads, a condition called microcephaly, of some babies exposed to Zika during pregnancy.
So, with two independent studies coming out with explanations for this horrific phenomenon, I think we can now concentrate on the idea that this is a real problem that needs to be dealt with quickly and effectively.

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