Researchers make Zika breakthrough


Scientists looking for a weapon in the fight against the Zika virus say they have made two big breakthroughs.
Researchers say they have found a way which might protect unborn babies from the Zika virus.
Meanwhile a second research team says it is about to begin human trials of a new vaccine.
While neither treatment offers an immediate solution against Zika, they do offer hope.
The virus has so far spread its tentacles across the Americas and the Caribbean and parts of Asia.
So far, no treatment has been found to prevent the Zika virus in a mum-to-be from infecting her unborn baby. The virus has been found to cause severe birth defects, including small heads in babies.
However, scientists say they have now carried out research in pregnant mice, discovering a human antibody which stops a fetus from being affected by Zika. The trials also found that the antibody had protective benefits for adult mice.
The new treatment uses the body’s own defences to fight Zika. Specifically, an immune system particle called a monoclonal antibody targets the virus.
In the research on mice, it was shown to reduce the damage the virus causes to unborn babies while helping to prevent the adult mice from being infected in the first place.
Dr Michael Diamond, from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis said: “This is the first antiviral that has been shown to work in pregnancy to protect developing fetuses from Zika virus.
He said he was now certain this research proved that it was possible to treat the Zika virus during pregnancy, giving hope to pregnant women.
Dr Diamond added: “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.”
The Zika virus is not harmful to most people, but it is a particular risk for unborn babies, as it can lead to severe birth defects. The virus is either borne by carrying mosquitoes, or through sexual intercourse.
Because mice do not naturally catch Zika when left to their own devices in the wild, the new research cannot predict with total accuracy what would happen in humans.
However, the laboratory mice were specifically bred to be susceptible to Zika and showed the same sort of effects suffered by humans. Therefore, the results are deemed to be highly significant.