Scientists have found a human antibody that can help in the development of Zika prevention techniques.
The viral disease spread throughout Brazil and beyond in 2015 and 2016. Though the epidemic ended last year, preventing another epidemic from happening is important.
A mosquito species called Aedes aegypti is a carrier of the virus. A mosquito bite can transmit the virus to a human host. Other diseases like yellow fever, dengue, and Japanese encephalitis belong to the same flavivirus family as Zika.
Previously, scientists thought that Zika only caused symptoms like rashes, headaches, and fevers. However, in the latest epidemic, it came to light that Zika can cause other, more severe conditions. The virus can affect fetal development, and has been linked to cases of microcephaly in numerous newborns. Zika-infected adults are also in danger of developing Guillain–Barré syndrome, which can be life-threatening. Unlike other flaviviruses, scientists have discovered that Zika infection can happen through sexual contact.
In a recently-published study, researchers say that they have analyzed the human antibody that binds itself to the Zika virus. The study details how the antibody disrupts the virus's infection mechanism. With further development, this study can be a step toward the development of effective Zika prevention.
When the Zika virus infects a host, it does so by first attaching itself to the membrane of one of its host's cells. An acidic reaction in the membrane then facilitates the transfer of the virus's RNA. This is a vital part of the infection process.
According to the findings of the study, the antibody can stop this acidic reaction in the cell membrane from happening. As long as it attaches itself to the Zika virus, it has the potential of stopping the RNA transfer. The researchers have also discovered that there is no need for high concentrations of antibodies. Even in lower concentrations, the antibodies can do the trick.
Researchers isolated the antibody from a person who had previously contracted Zika. They found that the antibody had the capability to neutralize Zika strains. What's more, they also found that the antibody can lower the risks of infection and death in mice fetuses. There's a chance that this antibody may lower the risks of the Zika virus infecting fetuses in human mothers.
“[I]t is crucial to understand the immune response elicited by the infection to develop neutralizing anti-Zika therapies," says Michael Rossmann, one of the researchers. Their findings can be quite instrumental in the development of an effective vaccine, as well as treatment for patients.
With this study, researchers will also be able to identify sites on the Zika virus that antibodies can attach themselves to. Researchers say that this particular discovery, once made, has the potential to aid in the creation of Zika vaccines. There may still be a long way to go, but the first steps have been taken. The world may yet be able to beat back another epidemic with effective Zika prevention.
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