How are Zika and Hepatitis Related? A Repurposed Treatment for the Microcephaly-Causing Virus

A potential Zika treatment exists as a result of drug repurposing. The drug originally treated Hepatitis C. A new study highlights its potency against the microcephaly-causing Zika virus. Keep reading to learn more, or find additional details at

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine reported in the journal Scientific Reports that a Hepatitus C treatment has been observed effective against Zika virus. Details from colleagues in Brazil, and other research centers support the findings and suggest further research. So far the drug has been effective in both cell cultures and mouse models.

The drug not only protected healthy cells and rescued others, but prevented Zika transmission from mother to fetus in mouse models.

“There has been a lot of work done in the past year or so to address the Zika health threat,” says Alysson Muotri, PhD. Muotri serves as senior author of the new study, and as a professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine among other prestigious roles. Muotri elaborates that much of the Zika research shows promise but has thus far been limited. Most research concerns itself with development of vaccines.

“But there is also a great need to develop clinical strategies to treat Zika-infected individuals,” Muotri says.

Muotri specifies a concern for pregnant mothers. Infection prevention is no longer an option for these patients. Furthermore, there is a great health risk surrounding Zika and pregnancy. Zika infection during the first trimester results in the highest risk of microcephaly.

Some of the first notable Zika outbreaks occurred in Brazil between 2015 and 2016. Increased occurrence of newborns with congenital malformations signaled the prevalence of the virus.

Microcephaly became the most notable and consequential symptom. Research poured in in an attempt to discover the mechanisms of the Zika virus. The Muotri lab, and collaborators, contributed work on the process by which the virus spreads from mother to fetus.

Muotri’s most recent work, however, pursues clinical answers. Researchers explored the possibilities of a drug called sofosbuvir. Branded and marketed as Sovaldi, the drug normally treats hepatitis C infections. It functions by preventing replication of the hepatitis c virus. Zika and Hepatitis C belong to the same family of viruses, and bear a strong resemblance. This led scientists to wonder if sofosbuvir would prevent Zika as well.

One test for sofosbuvir used human neural progenitor cells. These are a form of self-renewing, multipotent cells. They function to produce neurons and other key cells of the brain. Exposing these cells to sofosbuvir rescued dying cells from Zika infection. Furthermore, sofosbuvir enabled the cells to restore their antiviral response to Zika.

Further tests involved the use of mouse models. In Zika infected models, sofosbuvir dramatically decreased the viral load in blood serum. Results form this model were compared to a palcebo group and found to be significant. Perhaps most importantly, Zika was prevented from infecting the fetuses of pregnant mice during the study.

Researchers made clear that there was much work to be done. Their findings are still in the early stages. The results do, however, underline the benefit of investigating drugs already approved for use. Muotri stated the belief that, until an approved vaccine exists, this route should be fully pursued.

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