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New Antibody Protects Pregnant Women, Fetuses Against Zika Virus

8 November 2016, 6:44 am EST By Alyssa Navarro Tech Times
Researchers in the United States have identified a human antibody that can potentially protect pregnant women and their fetus from Zika virus infection. Experts hope the antiviral can lead to development of effective treatments.  ( Huy Mach | Washington University School of Medicine )

Scientists have yet to develop a cure for the mosquito-borne Zika virus, but a new mice study has shown promise in protecting pregnant females and their fetus from the infection.

One of the most devastating consequences of Zika is the development of microcephaly or an abnormally small head in newborn babies who were infected in utero.

Now, for the first time, a human antibody has been found to shield mice fetus from being infected with Zika. Researchers believe the existence of the antiviral means Zika virus during pregnancy is treatable.

Antibody Treatment Against Zika Virus

The study, which was conducted at Washington University School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, involved the screening of 29 anti-Zika antibodies from patients who recovered from Zika virus infection.

Michael Diamond and James Crowe Jr., both senior authors of the report, discovered one antibody known as ZIKV-117, which efficiently neutralized five Zika strains in the laboratory.

Diamond, Crowe and colleagues tested whether the antibody would be effective in animals. They gave the Zika antibody to pregnant mice either one day after or one day before they were infected.

During both trials, the treatment significantly decreased the levels of virus in pregnant female mice and their fetuses as well as in the placenta compared with pregnant mice that did not receive the antibody. Researchers said the antibodies protected the fetus 95 to 100 percent of the time.

Indira Mysorekar, a coauthor of the study, explained that the antibodies keep the fetus safe by blocking the Zika virus from crossing the placenta.

In fact, the placenta from treated female mice appeared healthy and normal, while those of the untreated female mice revealed damage on the placental structure. Such damage can hinder fetal growth, and in some cases, can lead to fetal death, which are both markers of Zika among humans.

Hope For Zika Virus Treatment?

Statistics from the World Health Organization reveal that more than 2,000 children with microcephaly or birth defects in the central nervous system were born in Brazil since the outbreak, making the development of an effective treatment against Zika urgent.

Amesh Adalja, a senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security, believes that if the mice study can be replicated in human models, it could be an important way to curb the damage caused by Zika.

Meanwhile, Crowe, Diamond and the rest of the research team are working with private companies and the government about ways to support further studies and the production of the antiviral treatment.

"[N]ow we want to know whether it can clear persistent infection from those parts of the body," added Diamond.

The findings of the report are published in the journal Nature.

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