Researchers at the University of Southern California have discovered a possible biomarker for Zika malformations. If confirmed, the news could improve prenatal screening and improve the fight against the virus.
The greatest risks from the virus are related to infections that occur in the first and second trimester. A prenatal test could facilitate early diagnosis, which today only occurs when the pregnancy is already advanced. The team expects to be able to develop it in relatively little time, also offering further information on the mechanisms of infection.
The researchers compared blood samples from 30 infected and 30 healthy women. Thanks to the samples, the scientists observed the reactions of the immune system to infection. They focused on the cytokines produced by the body and identified 69 of them. Of these, 16 could be linked to malformations caused by the virus. However, other analyzes will be necessary, also to identify other possible chemical agents.
According to the authors of the study, other chemical messengers may also be involved, or substances secreted in response to particular factors. However, this is a beginning that sets the stage for the development of prenatal tests that facilitate early detection of Zika. The goal is to obtain a test similar to that of fetal DNA, which exploits the material present in the mother's blood without touching the fetus.