Scripps Research Institute scientists believe they know how Zika penetrates placenta

Posted at 11:27 PM, Aug 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-05 19:06:30-04

JUPITER, Fla. -- Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute may have answered a pressing question concerning pregnant women and the Zika virus: How does Zika get through the Placenta and harm babies in the womb?

Dr. Hyerun Choe, an Associate Professor at Scripps, says she has been studying Zika since January.

MAP: Tracking Zika cases in Florida | Special Section: Zika in Florida

Within the last couple months, she feels she has gathered enough research and data to support how Zika gets through the Placenta.

“We worked like crazy day and night,” Choe said.

In the simplest explanation, she says the Placenta serves as a protective barrier for the unborn baby. There are specific cells or molecules in the Placenta that keep out viruses or harmful bacteria. 

Choe says Zika is somehow able to infect those specific cells, which ultimately allow the virus to enter the Placenta.

“It’s like a revolving door,” Choe said.

She still doesn’t know why similar viruses like Dengue Fever or West Nile do not do the same thing.

Her research supports answers to at least one of the many questions surrounding Zika.

She is also hoping to learn why serious birth defects haven’t been reported until recently after the virus has been around more than 50 years.

“Soon to be” moms are glad to see researchers looking to learn more about Zika. “It’s certainly something we keep an eye on,” said Mary Longshore.

Choe hopes her research could contribute to developing more effective vaccines or protections for the Placenta.

“Hopefully they will find a solution that will keep us safe,” Longshore said.

Choe says she has completed a paper with her findings that will be reviewed, and potentially published.

If it is published, that could happen in a couple months. It would be available for scientists around the world to review.