Zika virus (ZIKV) was first identified in 1947; however, it only recently became a significant public health concern. South America is the epicenter of the ongoing Zika virus epidemic, with 84 countries reporting cases of travel-related ZIKV transmission. Canada has reported 486 travel-related cases, three sexually transmitted cases, and infections in 28 pregnant women and four newborns as of April 2017.
Primarily spread by mosquitos, but also transmitted sexually, outcomes of ZIKV infection during pregnancy vary from normal development of the baby to microcephaly and severe brain lesions in fetuses and neonates. Currently there are no approved vaccines or therapeutics available to combat the infection.
Dr. Uladzimir Karniychuk (VIDO-InterVac, University of Saskatchewan) is leading a multidisciplinary team that is developing a model that reproduces human ZIKV infection in pigs. In collaboration with the University of Toronto, they are using genomics to determine the biological mechanisms behind ZIKV-induced pathology during fetal development and after birth.
The project provides a unique and practical approach for studying how ZIKV causes disease. Additionally, this novel animal model will enable preclinical testing of new interventions to ensure effective solutions reach the market faster.