The mosquito-transmitted Zika virus has been in the news a lot lately. Do you know what scientists are doing to protect us from it? When the virus infects pregnant women, it can cause neurological defects in their unborn children. Microcephaly (abnormally small heads) is the worst defect caused by Zika.
Currently, there is no cure or vaccine preventing Zika infection. It is hard to develop a vaccine because of a special feature of this virus and its close relatives called antibody-dependent enhancement (more on that later). That’s why we decided to try a new approach against this virus. Instead of a vaccine, we wanted to introduce “ready-to-go” antibodies that could neutralize the infection.
We first found a patient with a natural, strong immune response against Zika virus. We then identified the antibodies that were responsible for this antiviral effect and produced them in the lab. Then, we gave the purified antibodies to four macaques monkeys and injected the animals with Zika virus to see if this treatment can prevent virus replication. Our experiment showed promising results – we found no trace of the virus in the antibody-treated macaques.