University of Wisconsin–Madison

On the Trail of Zika

With its connection to birth defects and seemingly rapid spread, the Zika virus became one of the most terrifying health stories of 2016. Cases appeared across the tropics, and scientists launched into a race to find a vaccine or other means of preventing its devastating effects.The UW’s School of Veterinary Medicine has contributed some of the top researchers making advances against Zika, including pathology professor David O’Connor PhD’01; pathobiological sciences professor Jorge Osorio MS’88, PhD’96; and research scientist Matthew Aliota ’05, PhD’10.

The team has provided expertise in virology, working with Latin American scientists to track the disease’s spread and to investigate the mechanism by which the virus attacks unborn children.Work done at UW–Madison has led to NIH support for a series of studies of the virus in macaques, monkeys whose physiology and immune systems are similar to those of humans. During the summer of 2016, Aliota and Osorio led an effort that may have found a new way of blocking the disease — by using a bacterium to, in effect, immunize the mosquitos that spread Zika.

It’s just one example of the ways in which UW–Madison and the School of Veterinary Medicine are using the tools of research to rapidly address real-world problems.