Researchers at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of 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 September 21, 2017, in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (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,” stated lead author Sander R. Dubovy, MD, 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. 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,” stated Dubovy.