State Grant Will Help USF Study How Zika Infects Fetuses

Feb 3, 2017
Originally published on February 2, 2017 5:15 pm

The University of South Florida will use a $1.1 million dollar state grant for Zika research to look at how the virus infects fetuses.

Researchers want to know how Zika penetrates the placenta, which usually acts as a barrier to keep a fetus safe from viruses.

When the virus gets through the placental wall it causes severe birth defects in the fetus.

Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president of USF Health, and his team where the transmission is taking place.

“The question is, is it the placenta or is it the uterus or is it both that serve as the reservoir for the infection that goes from the mother to the fetus,” Lockwood said

Once researchers figure out how the virus is getting to the fetus, they can they can experiment with drugs to prevent it from happening.

The university received $2.5 million total from the state to fund three grants.

It will use $1.1 million to facilitate clinical trials for a zika vaccine and $200,000 identify natural products to fight Zika.

Lockwood says the grants could have a big impact.

"Hopefully they will help improve care of patients that unfortunately are infected by Zika and maybe help prevent that infection," he said. 

The state awarded 34 grants totaling $25 million to universities and researcher centers. The Moffitt Cancer Center got $200,000 to study how Zika causes microcephaly.