Dr. Koen Van Rompay, a Belgian veterinarian turned virologist whose research helped to stop the spread the HIV, is now part of what he calls an unprecedented collaborative effort to stop transmission of the Zika virus from pregnant mothers to their fetuses. Van Rompay was part of a team in the 1990s that developed Tenofovir, the world’s most widely used antiretroviral drug. Two decades later, with Zika rapidly spreading throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, and a vaccine as much as $1.5 billion and 20 years away, Van Rompay reached out to research teams in Washington and Wisconsin to help find a way to prevent maternal-fetal transmission of the virus. This would not only limit the virus’ spread, but also reduce the virus’ most significant risk: pregnant women infected with the Zika virus have a higher risk of giving birth to children with microcephaly, a condition, often associated with stunted brain development, in which a baby is born with too small a head.
Though the separate research teams work individually, they remain in constant contact with each other, sharing data and communicating to fill the gaps in each other’s research. “This is why we became scientists, to help unravel things like this,” says Van Rompay. “The way things are going, the way we’re communicating, this is how research should go.”
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