American researchers have now shown that the Zika virus (ZIKV) can quickly destroy a person's retinal cells and, in extreme cases, even cause blindness. This latest study is helping researchers around the world develop treatment strategies and understand more about how the ZIKV affects patients.
Scientists involved in this study work at the Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit, Michigan. The Kresge Eye Institute is a part of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Ashok Kumar, an assistant professor at Wayne State, was the head researcher on this project. His main research focus was on how the ZIKV causes various abnormalities in the human eye.
The research team soon observed that the ZIKV has the ability to thrive especially well in the retina. Over time, the ZIKV can do great damage to the eyes' natural retinal cells.
Researchers put the ZIKV in various animal models to see how the ZIKV interacts with normal retinal cells.
Kumar said the research team was surprised how quickly retinal lesions formed on the eyes of a mouse they infected with ZIKV. In medical jargon, this process is officially known as "chorioretinal atrophy."
The data collected by Dr. Kumar's team will most likely help develop treatment strategies for combating ZIKV in the future. Specifically, Dr. Kumar hopes scientists can develop new anti-viral molecules and drugs that will have the ability to halt the growth of retinal lesions in ZIKV patients.
A few tests in the past have confirmed that the ZIKV does appear in human eyes. Most studies before Dr. Kumar's work were limited to taking a patient's tears and examining the levels of ZIKV cells in them.
Most researchers involved in ZIKV studies are now interested in seeing how exactly the virus changes human cells. Professors at Wayne State will most likely take a look at how the ZIKV changes our retinal cells in the near future.
The NYC-based nonprofit Research to Prevent Blindness donated a ton of money to help Dr. Kumar with his research. Over the past decade, Research to Prevent Blindness has donated around $4.25 million to the Kresge Eye Institute.
The ZIKV often spreads via mosquitos or sexual contact. Some people with ZIKV don't notice any symptoms; others, however, notice joint pain, fevers, rashes, and moments of paralysis. It's important to understand the prevalence of ZIKV in any area you may be traveling to. There are currently less than 1,000 cases of ZIKV in the USA each year.
A few of the countries significantly impacted by the Zika virus include Puerto Rico, Brazil, Mexico, and Vietnam. There have been a few reported cases in America as well, especially in Texas and Florida.
Wayne State's study on how the ZIKV affects human eyes was recently published in the medical journal JCI Insight.
Kumar has won numerous awards over his long career. A few of these awards include the Grant Initiative Program Award in 2008 and the First for Sight post-doctoral fellowship award in 2005. A few of the universities Dr. Kumar was educated in include Panjab University, Kurukshetra University, and the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy in the Medical College of Georgia.