The fight against the zika virus has taken a potentially significant step forward, thanks to a study published in the scientific journal PLOS One by virologists from the Stritch School of Medicine of the Loyola University of Chicago (USA). The researchers in fact produced six different kinds of monoclonal antibodies in laboratory conditions that could be used for a rapid diagnosis but also, potentially, a cure for this disease, which up to now has affected more than one and a half million people.
The monoclonal antibodies (produced thanks to genetic engineering techniques in order to reach a “prefixed” target by the researchers) are directed towards the capsule of the virus and are made using a relatively easy and cheap technique: an important feature, because the main outbreaks of infection have almost always been recorded in poor countries or in areas where healthcare facilities are few and far between or badly-equipped. These antibodies, furthermore, can be easily manipulated, because they stick to a simple filter paper, without the need for special types of storage. If they come into contact with blood samples containing the virus, they change color, and the confirmation of the presence of zika is therefore immediate.
The researchers decided to synthesize six different monoclonal antibodies because the virus has several variations, which have likewise become targets for the antibodies. The virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes (in equatorial areas, especially by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes) found in Africa, but also in central and south American countries. The infection in itself is not particularly dangerous (it causes symptoms that, in part, are flu-like, in addition to rashes and headaches), but if the virus strikes pregnant women, it can, on the other hand, cause serious malformations to the unborn child (microcephaly and other deformities). Hence, for some time researchers have been looking for rapid and safe diagnosis tests capable of identifying the disease immediately. In fact, the monoclonal antibodies synthesized in Chicago, as well as identifying the virus, could also lead to some kind of vaccination, also blocking the zika in the blood: new experiments are underway.
Journalist since 1983, has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. Creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by corriere.it on oncology, in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is currently President of the Lugano Science Foundation.