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Zika: Infected Chick Embryos Could Test Microcephaly Remedies

Georgia researchers have caused microcephaly by infecting chick embryos with Zika virus. The good news is that such infected chicken eggs could be a quick effective place to test therapeutic compounds to halt fetal brain damage.

Working with chick embryos, researchers at the University of Georgia have shown how the Zika virus negatively affects neurodevelopment and at the same time have come up with a model that could be used to test potential drugs for the virus.

Writing in Stem Cells and Development Forrest Goodfellow, a graduate student in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and colleagues said they had developed a neurodevelopmental chick model that could mimic the effects of Zika on the first trimester in infected pregnant women.

Their study is called "Zika Virus Induced Mortality and Microcephaly in Chicken Embryos."

Goodfellow inoculated chick embryos with a virus strain originally sourced from the Zika outbreak’s epicenter.

"We wanted a complete animal model, closely to that of a human, which would recapitulate the microcephaly phenotype," said Goodfellow, who recently presented the findings at the Southern Translational Education and Research Conference.

The chick embryos are readily available and inexpensive, he said.

"With egg injection automation and embryo viability technology, we could test tens of thousands of potential therapeutic compounds in a single day," he added.

The team had earlier developed a unique approach that married stem cell biology and MRI to track and label neural stem cells.

They used MRI to image the brain’s structure, shape and size and also found evidence that Zika infection caused visible damage and reduced brain volume.

Their findings could be useful in testing therapeutic compounds to treat or halt early-stage microcephaly, the team said.

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