Sallie Permar on What is Unusual about the Zika Virus

Dr. Sallie Permar, director of Laboratory of Neonatal Viral Pathogen Immunity at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, says the Zika virus is one of the few viruses that are known to be transmitted from mothers to fetuses. 

"Those viruses include rubella (German measles), cytomegalovirus and HIV," said Permar, who is also associate professor of immunology and of molecular genetics and microbiology. "We study the transmission of those viruses in our lab. If the Zika virus is able to cross the placenta and cause disease, a maternal vaccine is the best hope to block the transmission to the fetus. Research teams at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute have several vaccine strategies in development from work with other vaccine efforts for rapid mobilization into testing in the lab, and in animal models as potential candidates against Zika.”

With the World Health Organization raising warnings about the spread of the virus, Permar and other researchers are looking to explore how the virus works and vaccine strategies.

Permar studies HIV and cytomegalovirus, notably how mother-to-child transmission occurs and vaccine strategies that could prevent fetal infections. Her work is uniquely applicable to Zika virus, and is augmented by collaborations with other researchers in the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, the Duke Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, and at the Duke Global Health Institute, which has clinics throughout Brazil and Central America.