Antibodies from human patients suffering from Dengue fever have been shown to effectively treat Zika virus infections in rodents.

Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Washington, St Louis, have observed that the antibodies of people infected with Dengue virus can effectively treat Zika infections in mice. An outbreak of Zika virus in 2015-16 attracted a lot of attention due to it causing deformities in newborn children, such as microcephaly. If the findings of the study are replicated in humans, it could lead to the development of a single therapy for both Zika and Dengue infections.

Zika and Dengue are from the same family, Flaviviridiae, they’re found in many of the same locations around the world, and are both transmitted by mosquitoes.

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Early studies suggested that a previous Dengue infection could worsen the reaction to Zika virus, but the groups in the UK and the US slightly modify the immune cells to overcome this issue. Last year, the researchers demonstrated that the modified immune cells recognize the Zika virus and their most recent results highlight the potential of the cells to clear a Zika infection in mice.

Head and brain size of a newborn child with microcephaly in comparison with that of a healthy baby.

The number of Zika cases has dropped off sharply since the outbreak back in 2015-16. Although this may have caused some groups, for example, Sanofi to turn their back on the development of a Zika vaccine, there are many that still believe that it is a target worth pursuing.

Researchers at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, have identified a potential therapeutic target, the IFITM3 protein, that blocks Zika infections when overexpressed. Oxitec is taking an alternative approach, by using genetically engineered mosquitoes to reduce the population size of Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

Of course, there is no harm in being prepared in case Zika comes back. “The threat from Zika is clearly not as great as it was, but nobody knows when it’s going to come back,explained Professor Screaton, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London. The next step for the group is to repeat their findings in larger mammals and humans. If successful, it will be a big boost towards developing a dual-Dengue-Zika vaccine.


Images – Chansom Pantip / shutterstock.com; corbac40 / shutterstock.com

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