Tag Archives: transfer

Researchers identify a key weapon of Zika virus

Scientists at the University of Southern California discovered a key weapon used by the Zika virus to ravage the brains of infected fetuses: proteins.

In an article published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, researchers identified two proteins in Zika potentially responsible for causing microcephaly.

Microcephaly is a birth defect in which a child’s head is smaller than the average size. A variety of factors can trigger the condition, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including malnutrition, environmental agents and other viruses. Although it is associated with brain damage, some children born with the disease never develop cognitive issues.

The proteins — called NS4A and NS4B — affect the brain by targeting a critical signaling pathway that controls cell growth and breaks down damaged cells and their elements. Initially, Zika slows cell development and reduces the variety of cells in the brain. Over time, this “rigged” system enables the virus to thrive and spread while healthy cells die.

The finding is the first step toward developing future drugs that could prevent Zika’s damaging effects, said Jae Jung, the study’s co-author and director of the USC Institute of Emerging Pathogens and Immune Diseases. ”Those two viral proteins are ultimately the target for therapy development,” he said.

Working with discarded tissue, the researchers infected fetal neural stem cells — a building block of the nervous system — with three different strains of the Zika virus. Stem cells infected with the ZIKV strain, which is responsible for causing the current outbreak, died at rates more than four times higher than an uninfected brain.

The specific proteins in question kill neural cells by hijacking a signaling mechanism called AKT-Mtor pathway. The pathway handles the process of breaking down damaged cells, also known as autophagy. As Zika spreads in the developing fetus, the virus actually uses the disposal process to continue proliferating. Cells began dying as early as two weeks after infection occurred.

The Zika virus rose to prominence in 2015 after cases of an unknown disease were reported in Brazil. Since then, the outbreak has affected more than 40 countries, including the United States.

The virus is spread by certain mosquitoes and can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and joint pain in adults. Pregnant women are considered especially vulnerable because of the risk of microcephaly.

Dr. Kjersti Aagaard, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital Pavilion for Women and the Baylor College of Medicine, said microcephaly triggered by Zika is an urgent concern because of its association with brain malformation. With the virus, Aagaard said, a smaller head likely encases a smaller brain ravaged by disease.

“Microcephaly is the endpoint of the damage,” she said.

Aagaard also noted that the virus can affect pregnant women in other serious ways, too. The illness can lead to miscarriage, stillbirths and low amniotic fluid. In some cases, the illness causes both mother and child to develop ulcers in the eye.

But, some pregnant women who become infected never pass the virus to the fetus at all, Aagaard stressed. Early screening is key in identifying if and when a fetus is affected by the infected mother.

“An infected mom does not equal an infected fetus,” she said. “And an infected fetus does not equal an affected fetus.”

Findings from the latest study have already prompted further research to develop various Zika drugs and vaccines. Scientists are already working on a live, attenuated vaccine that will use a strain of the virus without the microcephaly-causing proteins, Jung said.

But questions remain, such as how these proteins interrupt the cell’s ability to regulate brain development. And while the scientists made this discovery in six months, Jung anticipates the next phase may take several years.

“We know where we are going but we need to find the detailed map,” he said.

Funding is also an issue. Congress left for recess in July without allocating monies for the Zika effort, which means labs that depend on government grants will be strapped for cash in the coming months.

But Dr. Gary Clark, chief of pediatric neurology and developmental neuroscience at Texas Children’s Hospital, said research should not be the medical community’s main priority. Instead, authorities should refocus on educating pregnant women and travelers entering the country from affected areas to prevent the virus’ spread and protect future children from a lifetime of disability.

“I think that bottom line is that this virus causes brain damage,” he said.  “And this is permanent.”

Published by agreement with Kaiser Health News, a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Milwaukee diocese posts priest sex abuse records

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee released thousands of pages of documents related to clergy sex abuse on July 1, including the personnel files of more than three dozen priests and the depositions of church leaders including New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the former archbishop of Milwaukee.

The documents were made public as part of a deal reached in federal bankruptcy court between the archdiocese and victims suing it for fraud. Victims say the archdiocese transferred problem priests to new churches without warning parishioners and covered up priests’ crimes for decades. Many pushed for the documents’ release in the belief that it would be an important part of their healing.

The collection also has drawn interest because of the involvement of Dolan, the president of the ultra-conservative and anti-gay U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the nation’s most prominent Roman Catholic official. Dolan has not been accused of transferring problem priests. He took over as archbishop in mid-2002, after many victims had already come forward. But there have been questions about his response to the crisis, including payments made to abusive priests when they left the church.

The archdiocese has characterized the money, as much as $20,000 in some cases, as a kind of severance pay meant to help priests transition out of the ministry. Similar amounts were made to men leaving the priesthood long before allegations of sexual abuse surfaced in the Catholic church, spokeswoman Julie Wolf said last year, when the payments came to light.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Jerome Listecki, has estimated the files total 6,000 pages. They include the depositions of Dolan and his predecessor, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, along with the personnel files of 42 of the 45 archdiocese priests with verified abuse claims against them. Allegations against one priest came to light only after the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy and his file will be released later, once it is complete, Topczewski has said. Two other priests’ files aren’t being released because they involve single victims who could easily be identified.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki said last week in an email to priests, parish leaders and others that the reports of abuse go back as much as 80 years. In the 1970s and 80s, priests were often removed from their parishes, sent for counseling and then reassigned. Twenty-two Milwaukee priests were reassigned to parish work after allegations of abuse and eight offended again, he said. Overall, Listecki said, “people were ill-equipped to respond” to the problem.

Similar files made public by other Roman Catholic dioceses and religious orders have detailed how leaders tried to protect the church by shielding priests and not reporting child sex abuse to authorities. The cover-up extended to the top of the Catholic hierarchy. Correspondence obtained by The Associated Press in 2010 showed the future Pope Benedict XVI had resisted pleas in the 1980s to defrock a California priest with a record of molesting children. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Vatican office responsible for disciplining abusive priests before his election as pope.

Abuse victims have long sought to hold the church accountable, but most didn’t come forward until well into adulthood, when it was too late under Wisconsin law to sue the church for negligence in supervising its priests. A 2007 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision gave them a window, saying the six-year limit in fraud cases didn’t start until the deception was uncovered. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2011, once it became clear that it was likely to face a slew of lawsuits.

As of June 30, 2012, the archdiocese had spent nearly $30.5 million on litigation, therapy and assistance for victims and other costs related to clergy sex abuse, according to its annual statement. It faces sex abuse claims from about 570 people in bankruptcy court, although some of them involve lay people or priests assigned to religious orders, not the archdiocese.