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Microcephaly: Building a case against Zika

Virus can damage cells key for developing brains, new study shows

By
12:43pm, March 4, 2016
a baby with microcephaly

SIZING UP  A doctor measures the head circumference of a baby girl in Brazil. The measurement can offer a quick way to gauge whether a newborn has microcephaly, a birth defect that leaves babies with underdeveloped heads and brains. 

The prime suspect in Brazil’s recent surge in birth defects may be convicted this summer, in the sweltering cities of Colombia.

That’s when the first big wave of pregnant women infected with Zika virus last fall will begin to give birth. Whether or not these babies are born with stunted brains, a condition known as microcephaly, may offer the best evidence yet that Zika is the culprit — or not.

While the world waits, molecular evidence is starting to come in. Zika virus readily infects (and kills) one kind of brain cell in developing embryos, researchers report online March 4 in Cell Stem Cell. “It’s the first step to show that Zika is actually doing something in the brain,” says study coauthor Guo-Li Ming, a neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Previous studies have found traces of Zika in damaged fetal brains — but that

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