There’s a Zika Treatment in the Works for Pregnant Women

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Photo: Huy Mach/Washington University School of Medicine

One of the sad facts about the Zika virus is that there is currently no vaccine or treatment. Researchers around the world have been dutifully working on an immunization and at least three groups have begun to test their vaccines in humans or have won approval to do so. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports that doctors have identified an antibody that could be used to protect pregnant women and their fetuses from contracting Zika.

The team from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine looked at 29 antibodies from people who recovered from a Zika infection and found one that neutralized five strains of Zika in the lab. They gave that antibody to pregnant mice either one day before or one or five days after the mice were infected with Zika. The outcome: Mice given the antibody had “markedly reduced” levels of the virus in their systems as well as in their fetuses and placentas compared to mice that didn’t get it. Untreated mice infected with Zika showed placental damage. They published their findings in the journal Nature.

It’s the first time an antiviral has been shown to protect developing fetuses from Zika. “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,” co-senior author Michael Diamond, M.D., Ph.D., of Washington University said in a release.

The antibody still needs to be tested in humans (which could be months away), but if it’s shown to work, it could be used as a treatment, an albeit expensive one, to protect pregnant women exposed to or diagnosed with Zika. The researchers also said their study suggests that a vaccine capable of generating protective antibodies could also protect developing fetuses in current or future pregnancies.