Researchers advance potential treatment to prevent Zika
Although the mosquito-borne Zika virus currently seems to be on the retreat in the U.S. – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently lifted the last remaining travel warning for southern Florida – the virus remains a significant threat to pregnant women and their unborn children. To date, there have been no drugs or vaccines approved for use by pregnant women to protect them or their babies from Zika infection.
By studying pregnant mice, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a common drug used to treat malaria, another mosquito-borne disease, may help prevent transmission of Zika from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. The drug, called hydroxycholoroquine, already has been approved for use in pregnant women and generally is considered safe.
The most devastating impacts of Zika infection happen in the womb, where the virus can cause brain damage, a condition called microcephaly in which babies are born with unusually small heads coupled with other neurological problems, and sometimes death.
When a pregnant woman is exposed to Zika, her body’s immune system battles the virus in an attempt to prevent it from crossing the placenta to reach the developing baby – but the virus often wins that battle. Led by Associate Professor Indira Mysorekar, Ph.D., the Washington University team showed that hydroxycholoroquine prevented the virus from crossing the placentas of mice by slowing down a cellular process called autophagy, which created a barrier to Zika reaching mouse offspring even though it did not suppress the virus in the mother.
Although hydroxychloroquine is approved for use in pregnant women for short periods, the researchers noted that further studies should be conducted to determine whether it is safe for long-term use, as pregnant women living in areas where Zika circulates may need to take the drug for the duration of their pregnancies. “We would urge caution, but nevertheless feel our study provides new avenues for feasible therapeutic interventions. [It] suggests that an autophagy-based therapeutic intervention against Zika may be warranted in pregnant women infected with Zika virus,” said Mysorekar, who also is co-director of the university’s Center for Reproductive Health Sciences. The study findings were published earlier this month in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.
On the calendar
An American Red Cross blood drive is on Monday, Aug. 7 from 2-7 p.m. at Riverchase of Fenton, 1297 N. Highway Drive in Fenton. To schedule an appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org.
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Cholesterol and glucose wellness screenings are available on Friday, Aug. 11 at St. Luke’s Women’s Center, 6 McBride & Son Corporate Center Drive in Chesterfield Valley. Screenings include cholesterol and glucose measurements; blood pressure and body composition measurements; and a one-on-one consultation with a registered nurse/health coach. A 10-hour fast and advance appointments are required. Cost is $20 for all screenings. To register, visit www.stlukes-stl.com.