The Department of Defense is funding research in San Antonio to see if a new vaccine can prevent birth defects in babies of women exposed to the Zika virus during pregnancy.
The Pentagon is concerned about soldiers deployed to places where the Zika virus is present. Zika can cause devastating birth defects if a woman becomes infected while pregnant. Officials have expressed a sense of urgency about getting a safe, effective vaccine into the population.
Scientists at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute will be studying pregnant marmosets that are housed at the attached Southwest National Primate Research Center to see how they respond to the vaccine.
Jean Patterson is a principal investigator on the study, and she said marmosets are the perfect non-human primates on which to test the effectiveness of the vaccine.
"We find that they show a great sensitivity to the virus," Patterson said. "So if we can protect a marmoset that's very sensitive to the effects of Zika, it would lead us to believe that we could protect humans."
Researchers would like to know whether this vaccine, if given to marmosets after they become pregnant but before they are exposed to the virus, protects marmosets and their fetuses from developing the virus.
Researchers will also test a serum made from the antibodies of Zika-vaccinated humans to see if it stops pregnant marmosets from passing zika to their fetuses.
Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie.