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NIH seeks research applications to study Zika in pregnancy, developing fetus

New effort seeks to understand virus’ effect on reproduction, child development

Friday, February 5, 2016

The National Institutes of Health today announced its research priorities for studies to investigate how Zika virus infection affects reproduction, pregnancy and the developing fetus.  Zika virus currently is circulating in about 30 countries and territories, notably in Latin America and the Caribbean. The virus has been linked to a spike in cases of microcephaly—an abnormally small head resulting from an underdeveloped and/or damaged brain—among newborn babies.

One of the highest priorities is to establish conclusively what role, if any, Zika virus has played in the marked increase in suspected microcephaly cases. In Brazil, more than 4,000 microcephaly cases have been reported since October 2015, up from 147 known cases in 2014. It is possible that these microcephaly cases could have another cause, or that a contributing factor in addition to Zika virus—another virus, for example—could be leading to the condition.

Given recent reports that Zika virus may be sexually transmitted, studies also are needed to determine if the virus is present in reproductive fluids, such as semen or vaginal secretions, and whether it can cause infection via the reproductive tract. Evidence from such studies might prove important in informing guidance for preventing the spread of Zika virus through intimate contact, particularly for women who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant. Additionally, these studies may indicate whether the virus poses a hazard for in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive procedures. Other studies of interest would investigate whether Zika virus infection affects long-term fertility in men and women and poses a risk for future pregnancies.

NIH also aims to modify ongoing studies to incorporate Zika virus research. For example, current studies of pregnant women and infants could be modified to check tissue samples for the virus and to look for potential health effects in those who were exposed.

The notice highlighting these research priorities was issued by NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. The new notice complements an earlier NIH announcement designed to spur Zika research to conduct basic research to better understand the virus and the disease it causes and to develop diagnostic tools, treatments and vaccines.

Catherine Y. Spong, M.D., Acting Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases


About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute’s website at

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  conducts and supports research (NIAID)—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID website.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is the nation’s leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is the nation’s leading funder of research on dental, oral, and craniofacial health. Visit

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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