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Antibody Shows Ultrapotent Activity Against Zika Virus

December 2, 2022 • 6:05 am CST
(Zika News)

An unusual type of antibody that, even at minuscule levels, neutralizes the Zika virus and renders the virus infection undetectable in preclinical models has been identified by a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian and others.

Because Zika can cause birth defects when passed from a pregnant person to a fetus, this discovery could lead to the development of therapies to protect babies from the potentially devastating effects of this disease.

In research published on November 18, 2022, in the peer-review journal Cell, the investigators isolated an ultrapotent immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody — a five-armed immune protein that latches onto the virus.

In experiments with mice, they determined that the antibody not only protected the animals from otherwise lethal infections but also suppressed the virus to the point that it could not be detected in their blood. 

This research is essential since, as of December 2, 2022, there are no approved vaccines or treatments to offer patients.

Zika is currently circulating at low levels in many tropical countries, such as Puerto Rico, but that will inevitably change, according to co-senior author Dr. Sallie Permar, the Nancy C. Paduano Professor in Pediatrics and chair of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and pediatrician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital.

“The important thing is that we’ve got to be ready for another outbreak of Zika,” Dr. Permar said in a related press release.

With further research, this antibody has the potential to help fill that gap, according to Dr. Permar. “There are two potential ways it could be used: To quickly reduce levels of Zika in the blood of pregnant people who have become infected, or as a preventative measure given to those at risk of contracting the virus during an outbreak.” 

Transmitted by infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the Zika virus usually causes a mild illness in adults.

However, Zika virus infection in pregnant people can cause severe birth defects, including abnormally small heads and brain damage in their babies.

Microcephaly is defined by the U.S. CDC as head circumference measurements smaller than a specific value for babies of the same age and sex.

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