Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have received a $700,000 boost as they study the Zika virus, and test new drugs and vaccines to prevent it.
The virus has caused an epidemic of birth defects in the Caribbean and South America, notably babies with abnormally small heads and brains. It is primarily spread by mosquitoes, but can also be sexually transmitted.
The Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization - International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) at the U of S has developed a better animal model that researchers say will help them not only understand the infection better, but test new vaccines and drugs.
"Much is really not understood about how a fetal infection can cause this brain [malformation] and misdevelopment," Dr. Volker Gerdts, associate director of research with VIDO-InterVac, said.
Gerdts said the researchers have discovered that using pigs in the trials, rather than mice, gives more accurate results as to how the virus and any vaccines would affect humans. He explained that mice would actually have to be genetically mutated to make the susceptible to the disease.
"Whereas pigs, as we found out now, fetal pigs are actually susceptible. So they can be infected and you can study what you would see in humans."
The investment announced Friday is being provided by Innovation Saskatchewan, Genome Prairie and VIDO-InterVac. It will add further support to the three-year project, which is expected to project preliminary results within two years.