Another step has been made in the potential future development of a treatment for pregnant women to protect their unborn children from the Zika virus, and its damaging neurological effects. Conducted in mice, the study published in Nature found that giving infected female’s antibodies taken from those who have previously had and fought off the virus helps protect the unborn pups.
The results from the study in mice does, however, have to be taken with a hint of caution. This is because the infection that the rodents experience is different to that which humans experience. Mice don’t naturally get Zika, and so have to be infected with a specially modified version, while at the same time have their immune systems weakened to allow the infection to take hold. This result is them giving birth to pups with symptoms similar to those seen in humans, namely damage to brain and nervous tissues.
After treating the infected pregnant mice with monoclonal antibodies extracted from the blood of humans who had previously contracted Zika but fought the virus off, the researchers found that the concentration of the virus in the mother’s blood dropped, and less of the virus crossed the placenta into the developing pups. The next stage should be to test the procedure in monkeys, say the researchers, as they are naturally susceptible to Zika, as well as having more similar pregnancies to humans. Then, and only then, would it be advisable to move onto human trials.
“This work describes some important progress in our understanding of Zika and how we might treat it in pregnancy,” explains Dr Derek Gantherer, who was not involved in the study. “It also raises some questions which will need to be addressed before we arrive at that treatment.”
While there has been a huge push to develop a vaccine since the outbreak occurred, this is obviously only a preventative measure, and will do nothing for those who have already contracted the virus, or may still do in the future. Because of this, there is a clear need to create a therapy for pregnant women who are infected in order to prevent their unborn child from suffering the fate of many who have unfortunately gone before.
“At the moment, if a pregnant woman is diagnosed with Zika she only really has one option, whether or not to have a termination,” says Professor Laura Rodrigues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to BBC News. “Even if we do one day have a vaccine that can protect people from catching Zika, there will still be some who will get infected. For these people, a treatment like this antibody one would be helpful.”
Despite the media coverage dropping after the flurry of attention earlier in the year, the threat of Zika is still present and many researchers are working to rapidly provide vaccines and treatments to help counter the virus. Hopefully this will add further to the growing body of knowledge used to fight this devastating disease.