Experts worried about slashed research funding
PETALING JAYA: A recent study on mice suggested that the Zika risk could be more widespread and may not be limited to pregnant women but with funding being slashed drastically, researchers here are concerned.
Last month, reported that the findings made by scientists at The Rockefeller University and La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology suggested that the adult brain cells of those with weakened immune systems might be vulnerable to the infection too.
In adults, the evidence suggested that Zika targets what is called the neural progenitor cells which could lead to loss of the cells and reduced brain volume, similar to that of microcephaly cases, a developmental condition linked to Zika infection in developing fetuses that results in a smaller-than-normal head and a wide variety of developmental disabilities.
Deficits in the adult brain from the attack were associated with cognitive decline and neuropathological conditions, such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease, the study suggested.
Asked to comment on the study, Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said humans are not mice and many viruses that infect mouse brain do not infect the human brain because humans have a different blood-brain barrier.
「More studies need to be done to determine if the virus has a propensity to infect the human brain,」 he said.
However, he said that Malaysian researchers were concerned as funding had been slashed drastically.
「The Government should not stop funding for research in infectious diseases.
「Currently, we are having to rely on research of other countries and this is not good because it keeps us vulnerable and unprepared,」 he said.
Dr Sazaly said that since cases of microcephaly were linked to Zika late last year, hardly any research had been done for people here to be prepared for Zika.
「Laboratory diagnostic tools suitable for use in our setting need to be developed and evaluated,」 he said.
Dr Sazaly said the Prime Minister should look into increasing the research funds in the next budget proposal.
In a workshop on dengue recently, Universiti Malaya deputy Vice-Chancellor/Provost (Academic & International) Prof Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud said research funding for the university had been cut by 60%.
「It is bad. Last year, we spent more than RM100mil on research and this year, it is only RM40mil, more than 60% cut.
「For 2017, I think it will be no better,」 he said.
Awang said that research fundings had been particularly hard hit because people deemed that it was not essential.
Higher Education Ministry director-general Prof Datuk Dr Asma Ismail said the ministry was aware and concerned about the reports on the Zika virus.
「We welcome proposals for such research and we are ever ready to assist the Health Ministry in its efforts to address this issue,」 she said.
She said the researchers at the universities have the capacity and capability to conduct research into Zika.
「We currently have universities conducting research on the dengue virus and the mosquitoes which are the primary vectors for the Zika virus,」 she said.