Brain Researcher Receives Fellowship to Study Zika's Impact on Infants

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Oct. 16, 2017Eliza Bliss-Moreau, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and a core scientist at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis, has been named a 2017 Murray B. Gardner Junior Faculty Research Fellow.

Bliss-Moreau, who studies the biological underpinnings of human and animal emotion and the evolution of the brain, will receive a $50,000 research award for preliminary research on how the Zika virus affects infants’ developing brains. During the 12-month fellowship, she will also receive mentoring support in seeking a grant from the National Institutes of Health for her project.

Zika, a mosquito-born virus, can cause microcephaly, a birth defect of the brain, and other problems in babies whose mothers were infected while pregnant. Most research has focused on the virus’s impact on fetal and adult brains. Bliss-Moreau will examine the mechanisms by which the Zika virus changes the still-developing brains of infants.

She is one of two Gardner fellows this year. The other is Colin Reardon, an assistant professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology.

The UC Davis Center for Comparative Medicine launched the Gardner fellowship program in 2016 to help assistant professors studying animal models of human disease with one of the biggest challenges in establishing their academic careers—securing their first major research grant.

The fellowship is named for its benefactor: Murray Gardner, veterinary pathologist and distinguished professor emeritus who in the 1980s and ’90s helped identify retroviruses in rhesus monkeys and cats that are similar to HIV that causes AIDS in humans. Today, researchers use the simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIV) model to study treatments and vaccines for HIV/AIDS.