With the rise and spread of the devastating Zika virus, researchers have been racing towards the creation of a vaccine. A new antibody injection, however, may prove more effective and may become available in a timelier manner. A recent lab study has shown success deterring the risk of contracting Zika using a blended dose of three potent antibodies.
Interception with Injection
Modern researchers have been steadfastly working on new forms of immunology to deter and/or fight viruses. Immunology is the branch of science/medicine concerned with the function of the biological immune system and its responses. Immunologists experiment with laboratory techniques that involve the interaction of antigens with antibodies. Antigens are the invaders (toxins, viruses) that trigger and immune response. Antibodies are blood protein molecules that attack antigens.
For decades, immunology has focused on utilizing vaccines to help keep certain diseases and viruses at bay. Vaccines train our immune system to produce its own antibodies to fight off the foreign invader. Instead, injecting pre-made antibodies to provide instant protection against pathogens is a newer practice of immunology. This type of disease-fighting implementation may last temporarily, but it is effective and immediate.
Calling All Antibodies
Antibodies basically block pathogens (like the Zika virus) from entering human cells. The beauty of this science is that the virus can’t spread (or survive) because it can’t make copies of itself outside a cell. Therefore, injecting specific antibodies that targets a specific virus seems like a palpable preventative step. This is exactly what researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine were thinking.
The team of researchers, which included pathologist David Watkins, collected over 90 antibodies from a Zika patient in Columbia. They chose the three most potent antibodies and cloned them to create enough for a series of experimental injections. The injection was introduced into four monkeys a day before being exposed to the Zika virus. None of them became infected—even after three weeks of observation. (Unfortunately, the others who were exposed who were not given the injection of antibodies developed the virus.)
The less-appealing factor of implementing antibodies is that they don’t live incredibly long. They may remain effective for weeks, perhaps months in some instances. So, in order to lower the risk for a pregnant woman from contracting Zika, she would need a few injections over the course of her pregnancy to ensure she remained virus-free.
Pregnant women living in or traveling to areas where Zika is abundant is perilous to the health of their fetus. The Zika virus can cause microcephaly and other neurological birth defects. To understand more about the virus, how it’s contracted, spread, avoided, see https://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html
A Protection Against Zika Breakthrough
Although this antibody study was conducted on monkeys, it provides information (and hope) that humans may soon be protected from contracting the Zika virus. It is not a vaccine, but that may be OK. Vaccines can provide longer-lasting protection, but their effects can also vary amongst different individuals.
The next step will be to test the antibody cocktail on pregnant monkeys. Then, after that, clinical trials will need to be conducted with humans. There are several positive notes in this regard: for one, antibody injections may carry fewer or less severe side effects than vaccines; another perk—antibody therapy may contribute to the decrease in many different viruses, including HIV and Ebola.
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