Bascom Palmer Researchers Identify Widespread Impact of Zika Virus on the Eye

Researchers at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine have identified the considerable impact of the Zika virus on the eye in a groundbreaking study entitled “Ocular Histopathologic Features of Congenital Zika Syndrome” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Ophthalmology.

Congenital Zika syndrome is associated with severe malformations in newborns whose mothers were infected with the virus during pregnancy. “Although microcephaly – a small undeveloped head – is the hallmark of this disease, the ocular findings are of the utmost importance, given the severe visual impairment that has been observed in these patients,” said lead author Sander R. Dubovy, M.D., professor of ophthalmology and pathology and the Victor T. Curtin Chair in Ophthalmology.

In this study, ocular tissue samples from four diseased fetuses diagnosed with congenital Zika syndrome (CZS) were provided by the National Institute of Health in Colombia and sent to the Florida Lions Eye Bank Ocular Pathology Laboratory at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute for evaluation. Unlike prior research using animal models, this study took a systematic look at the Zika virus’ presence and impact on the human eye.

“For the first time, we were able to identify virus localization within ocular tissue,” Dubovy said. “The virus was identified in the iris, neural retina, choroid and optic nerve with ocular changes including thinning of the retinal pigment epithelium, choroidal thinning and lack of differentiation of the neural retina.

“We plan to continue our collaborative research on CZV to better understand the effects of the virus on the human eye, which may aid in future treatment strategies including pharmacotherapy and vaccine development.”

The authors from Bascom Palmer Eye Institute are Maria P. Fernandez, M.D., former research fellow, Florida Lions Eye Bank Ocular Pathology Laboratory; Richard K. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology; Camila V. Ventura, M.D., former research fellow, ophthalmology; Audina M. Berrocal, M.D., professor of ophthalmology; and Sander R. Dubovy, M.D., professor of ophthalmology and pathology and the Victor T. Curtin Chair in Ophthalmology, corresponding author.

Colombian authors are Angela M. Fernandez, M.D., Society of Colombian Ophthalmologists; Edgar Parra Saad, M.D.; Martha Ospina Martinez, M.D.; Sheryl Corchuelo, M.S.; Marcela Mercado Reyes, M.S.; and Angelica Rico, B.C., Instituto Nacional de Salud, Bogota; Maria Jose Herrera, M.D., Facultad de Ciencias de la Salud, Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla; and Miguel Parra Saavedra, M.D., Department of Perinatology, CEDIUL Diagnostic Images, Barranquilla.

About Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
Bascom Palmer Eye Institute is ranked the nation’s best in ophthalmology by U.S. News & World Report, an honor it has received for 14 consecutive years. In addition to its international reputation as one of the premier providers of eye care in the world, Bascom Palmer is the largest ophthalmic care, research and educational facility in the southeastern United States. Each year, more than 250,000 patients are treated with nearly every ophthalmic condition and more than 18,000 surgeries are performed. With five patient care facilities in Florida (Miami, Palm Beach Gardens, Naples, Plantation, and The Lennar Foundation Medical Center in Coral Gables), the Institute serves as the Department of Ophthalmology for the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, part of the University of Miami Health System. Bascom Palmer faculty members also staff the Miami and West Palm Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, Jackson Memorial Hospital and Miami Children’s Hospital.

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