The virus has been blamed for causing microcephaly, a condition where a child is born with an abnormally small head as a result of incomplete brain development.
The hNPCs are crucial for the development of the cortex – or outer layer – of fetal brains, and the findings would be consistent with the theory that Zika can cause microcephaly. There were two stillbirths in the study.
“We have found a strong link between Zika and adverse pregnancy outcomes, which haven’t been documented before”, said Nielsen, professor of clinical pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “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”.
Outside the fetus, Zika himself, most often transmitted through the bite of a mosquito, does not present a danger, causing the worst symptoms of a cold or mild flu, passing sometimes unnoticed.
Asia has seen only a sprinkling of cases of the virus, but a surge in Latin America this year has pushed the United Nations health agency to declare Zika a global health emergency.
“This is the closest we’ve gotten to causation”, Adalja said.
It has since become the hardest hit country, with an estimated 1.5 million cases of active Zika transmission and 641 confirmed cases of microcephaly.
The geographical distribution of Zika virus has steadily widened since the virus was first detected in the Americas in 2015.
Others with the Zika virus suffer from fever, rash, joint pain and pink eye.
While the breakthrough does not prove the virus causes this, it sheds more light on how it attacks the body.
The researchers performed ultrasounds on 42 women who had a Zika infection and 16 women who did not have a Zika infection. Those ultrasounds found abnormalities in 12 of the infected women, or 29 percent.
The group is expecting to receive samples any day, and the first step will be to grow the virus and begin studying infection from placenta to fetus.
Two women infected with Zika had stillbirths at 36 and 38 weeks of pregnancy, respectively.
“But as the Zika virus story has unfolded there has been speculation about the mechanism, which this study addresses”.
Tang said he is collaborating with other labs to look for substances that will block Zika infection of cells, in hopes of eventually creating a treatment for pregnant women that reduces the risk of passing the infection to their babies.
And in another case, a baby had to be “urgently delivered” from a woman with a later Zika infection, because the baby would have died otherwise, she said.
The foetus abnormalities that the study found out included fetal growth restriction, calcification of the brain, fetal death, central nervous system damage, potential blindness and placental insufficiency with low to no amniotic fluid.