Zika breakthrough as researchers reveal antibody treatment
USA - A new study of the Zika virus in mice raises hope for a way to protect pregnant women and their babies from the possible repercussions of being infected, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
The experimental treatment is derived from antibodies taken from the blood of people who have recovered from Zika infections.
Tested on pregnant mice, the treatment reduced levels of the virus in the mothers, and also protected their pups from the ravages of the virus. Zika, spread primarily through mosquitoes, has been known to cause birth defects in infants whose mothers have been infected during pregnancy.
‘This is proof of principle that Zika virus during pregnancy is treatable, and we already have a human antibody that treats it, at least in mice,’ said Dr. Michael Diamond of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, co-author of the study published on Monday in the journal Nature.
In the study, the researchers screened 29 Zika-specific antibodies taken from the white blood cells of patients who recovered from Zika infections caused by strains in Asia, Africa and the Americas. They found one, called ZIKV117, that neutralized all of the strains. The team then tested the antibodies in pregnant mice one day before and a day after infection with Zika. ‘The antibody reduces virus in the mother and also in the fetus, and it protects against placental and fetal damage,’ said Dr. James Crowe of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
‘These naturally occurring human antibodies isolated from humans represent the first medical intervention that prevents Zika infection and damage to fetuses,’ said Crowe.
‘We’re excited because the data suggests we may have antibody treatments in hand that could be developed for use in pregnant women,’ he said.
Crowe said he intends to keep pressing ahead, licensing the product to commercial partners.
He believes it can be ready for human trials in nine to 12 months, ‘if we go flat out.’ Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the research, cautioned that not everything that works in mice works in people.
Unique Robinson talks with her obstetrician, Dr. Aaron Elkin, about her ultrasound exam. Ms. Robinson was not diagnosed with the virus. (Photo: The New York Times)