Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization -
International Vaccine Centre

Development of the fetal pig model for Zika virus infection

Project Team: Uladzimir KarniychukVolker Gerdts, K. Lai

Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that is rapidly spreading across the Americas and world. The infection is linked with a variety of disorders including microcephaly (incomplete brain development) and small for gestational age (SGA) phenotype. The disease is an important public health concern in Latin America, and of great concern to travelers visiting these countries. Indeed, numerous countries have reported ZIKV infections including the US and Canada, mainly in individuals that have visited regions endemic for the disease. With the recent confirmation of sexual transmission, ZIKV has an alarming potential for further global spread. Massive global efforts are currently underway to understand the pathogenesis of the disease, its transmission, as well as to develop vaccines and therapeutics for disease prevention. We were the first group in the world to describe a novel animal model for ZIKV in fetal pigs. Pigs are closely related to humans and thus can serve as animal model for many human infections. The fetal pig model in particular will allow us to investigate the link between fetal infections and microcephaly, and subsequently test novel drugs and vaccine that can be used to prevent fetal infection and disease progression.