A team of researchers led by an Indian-origin doctor has generated six Zika virus antibodies that may help diagnose as well as treat the mosquito-borne disease that has infected more than 1.5 million people worldwide in the last few years.
The antibodies “may have the dual utility as diagnostics capable of recognising Zika virus subtypes and may be further developed to treat Zika virus infection,” Ravi Durvasula, Professor at the Loyola University Chicago. Further research to validate the antibodies’ potential is still on.
The antibodies, which are inexpensive to produce, could be used in a simple filter paper test to detect the Zika virus, while still stationed even on field. If the filter paper turns colour, the Zika virus is present, they said.
In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, the team used a technology called Ribosome Display and generated six synthetic antibodies that bind to the Zika virus, which during pregnancy can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and severe birth defects such as microcephaly.
An antibody is a Y-shaped protein made by the immune system. When a virus, bacterium or other pathogen invades the body, antibodies bind to antigens associated with the bug, marking it for the immune system to destroy.
As the Zika virus is still evolving, it would be useful to have six different antibodies, the researchers said.
In the event the virus mutates, it could be likely that at least one of the antibodies still would match the virus and thus could still be used in diagnosis and treatment.
Antibodies “neutralise” meaning when they bind to the Zika virus, they prevent the virus from infecting cells. This effectively renders the virus harmless.
The neutralising property potentially could lead to the development of a drug that an at-risk woman could take to prevent the virus from infecting her foetus, the researchers noted.
An antibody-based test for the Zika virus is expected to be cheap and fast, and could also easily be used to monitor mosquito populations for Zika.
If the virus is present in an area, officials could respond by stepping up mosquito-abatement efforts.
However, it will take further research to validate the antibodies’ potential for diagnosing and treating Zika virus, they said.