A team of researchers has prevented Zika virus infection in monkeys —and they hope the new approach can be developed for use in pregnant women.
The small experimental trial found that monkeys given a cocktail of known Zika antibodies—special proteins the immune system makes to stop a virus—did not develop Zika after they were exposed to the virus.
“These results are as clear cut as they get,” says Dr. David Watson, who studies viruses at the University of Miami’s medical school and was one of the researchers on the study that appears in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.
”It was frankly a huge surprise to me and I was also delighted,” he says.
At the peak of last year’s Zika outbreak, one of Watkins’ colleagues, Dr. Myrna Bonaldo at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Brazil, isolated an especially potent strain of the virus. It came from the urine of an infected pregnant woman in a hard-hit region.
“And this is important because in that outbreak more than 40 percent of the women suffered either fetal loss or fetal problems,” says Watkins. “So this was a pretty hot virus.”
The scientists gave the antibody cocktail to four monkeys. Then they exposed them, along with four monkeys that didn’t get the cocktail, to the extra virulent Zika strain from the pregnant woman’s urine.
The monkeys that didn’t get the antibody cocktail got predictably sick.
The ones that got the cocktail? No sign of infection.
“Not only was there no virus in the blood, the animals’ own immune response was absent—that means that they never even saw the virus,” says Watkins.
Watkins says that it willl take more research and funding, but the treatment could be ready for pregnant women in two to three years.
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