In a major offensive in medicine's war with the Zika virus, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have isolated a human monoclonal antibody that in a mouse model “markedly reduced” infection.
What's more, the antibody also protected the fetus in pregnant mice infected with the virus. Zika has been a particular bane to pregnant women, as it is believed to cause microcephaly – unusually small heads – and other congenital malformations in children born to infected women.
Some more testing is still needed, but the scientists are pretty confident that the antibody – named ZIKV-177 – can be developed as a protective treatment for pregnant women at risk of Zika infection.
“These naturally occurring human antibodies isolated from humans represent the first medical intervention that prevents Zika infection and damage to fetuses,” said James Crowe Jr., MD, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center.
“We’re excited because the data suggests we may have antibody treatments in hand that could be developed for use in pregnant women,” he said.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that has emerged as a global public health threat. In addition to its association with congenital birth defects, Zika has been linked to the serious auto-immune disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome that can lead to paralysis and death.
Since a major outbreak was reported in Brazil in 2015, Zika infections have been reported throughout Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas, including Florida. Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes.
Monoclonal antibodies are made from a single clone of B cells, which are a type of white blood cell. These white blood cells are fused to cancer cells to form fast-growing “hybridomas” that enable researchers to quickly generate large quantities of antibodies against specific targets. The researchers used antibodies they obtained from people who had become infected with the Zika virus in different parts of the world.
“The remarkable potency and breadth of inhibition by ZIKV-117 has great promise,” said Michael S. Diamond, MD, PhD, at Washington University, and co-corresponding author of the paper. “It was able to inhibit infection by strains from both Africa and America in cell culture and in animals, including during pregnancy.”
The research has been published in the journal Nature.