This is the laboratory at Johns Hopkins'Institute for Cell Engineering in Baltimore, where scientists work around the clock for a month to find out how the Zika virus affects brain cells.
"In this study, we just asked a very simple question:What are the cells that are preferentially vulnerable for the Zika virus?"
Since last year when the Zika outbreaks started in Brazil, more than 5,000 babies have been born with abnormally small heads and the possibility of severe developmental delays.
The condition is called microcephaly.
What these babies have in common is that at some time during pregnancy, the mothers were infected with the Zika virus.
Since then, scientists have tried to determine why and how the Zika virus affects the developing brain and when the fetus is most vulnerable.
At Johns Hopkins Medicine and Florida State University, researchers looked at what happens when the Zika virus is put into petri dish with lab-grown cells of the type that form the human brain.
These are stem cells and the more developed neural progenitor cells.
The researchers found that the Zika virus react in two different ways.
“First, they will kill some of these neural cells themselves that are responsible for forming part of the brain and, also, it will slow down the growth of these neural progenitor cells if they're not bad yet.”
They also found that the virus co-opts themselves and uses the cell's ability to reproduce to make copies of itself.
Ming says more work need to be done to prove that the Zika virus is directly responsible for microcephaly.
That work could involve a similar study using a three-dimensional model that is closer to the way that brain actually develops.
The scientists from both universities are now collaborating on another study.
"Another thing we really would like to do is to see whether we can find ways to block the Zika entry or the action of Zika virus on the cells."
Blocking the virus, or finding a way to keep it from damaging the brain cells would make zika far less threatening than it is now.