Zika virus infection of the placenta

Examine the role of the innate immune response to Zika virus infection in the female reproductive tract (FRT) and placenta.

Zika virus (ZKV) is positive sense single stranded RNA virus of the Flaviviridae family and is related to Dengue, Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus. While discovered in the 1940’s it was not until an outbreak in 1996 in Brazil highlighted the devastating consequences that this virus can impart on the unborn foetus.

Most ZKV infections are short lived and cause mild flu-like symptoms, however infection during pregnancy can cause severe complications and birth defects (microcephaly), particularly when infection occurs in first trimester of pregnancy.

These pathologies demonstrate that ZIKV readily crosses the placental barrier to impact the health of the developing baby. Our knowledge on how this occurs, the cells infected and their response at the innate immune level is lacking.

With collaborators from the Placental Biology Laboratory at the Robinson Research Institute we are studying ZIKV infection of human placental explant tissues and isolated cells and the depth of the innate immune response in these tissues at different stages of gestation.

Understanding how the placenta is infected with ZIKV and the cells involved will help us understand how ZIKV can ultimately infect the fetus. In addition, ZIKV can also be transmitted buy sexual intercourse and infectious virus can be isolated in the semen for up to 6 moths post infection.

We are also studying, in collaboration with researchers at Hudson Institute of Medical Research, a novel type I interferon (IFN-epsilon) that is regulated hormonally specifically in the FRT. We are specifically interested in IFN-epsilon and its ability to control ZIKV replication during the early stages of pregnancy using both cell culture and moue models of ZIKV infection.

Associate Professor Michael Beard


Associate Professor Michael Beard

Co-supervisor: Dr Kylie Van der Hoek

Research area: Viral pathogenesis, Research Centre for Infectious Diseases

Recommended honours enrolment: Honours in Molecular and Biomedical Science

Tagged in Honours projects - Molecular and biomedical science, Honours projects - Michael Beard, Honours projects - Molecular and biomedical science: Microbiology and immunology, Honours projects - Kylie van der Hoek