New York, Nov 17: A medication used to prevent and treat malaria has the potential to fight the deadly Zika virus, new research has found.
Zika virus remains a major global health risk. In most adults, Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms.
But in pregnant women, the virus can cause serious birth defects in babies, including microcephaly — a neurological condition in which newborns have unusually small heads and fail to develop properly.
There is currently no treatment or way to reverse the condition.
The new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, showed that the anti-malaria drug, called chloroquine, has the potential to treat Zika infections.
“There is still an urgent need to bolster our preparedness and capacity to respond to the next Zika outbreak,” said study co-author Alexey Terskikh, Associate Professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, California, in the US.
“Our latest research suggests the anti-malaria drug chloroquine may be an effective drug to treat and prevent Zika infections,” Terskikh added.
The study examined the effect of chloroquine in human brain organoids and pregnant mice infected with the virus, and found the drug markedly reduced the amount of Zika virus in maternal blood and neural progenitor cells in the foetal brain.
Pregnant mice received chloroquine through drinking water in dosages equivalent to acceptable levels used in humans.
“Chloroquine has a long history of successfully treating malaria, and there are no reports of it causing birth defects,” Terskikh said.
“Additional studies are certainly needed to determine the precise details of how it works. But given its low cost, availability and safety history further study in a clinical trial to test its effectiveness against Zika virus in humans is merited,” he added.