According to Drug Target Reviews, there may be an emerging vaccination effective against preventing Zika virus infection. Though many cases are mild, the infection can cause severe birth defects and health issues, such as microcephaly, in fetuses. Researchers at the University of Connecticut developed an experimental vaccine candidate designed to protect against Zika infection and prompt an immune response should someone be exposed to the virus. See the pre-clinical findings published in Scientific Reports.
Virus-Like Particles (VLPs)
Led by head researcher Paulo Verardi, the research team worked to create a vaccine which would confer protection against Zika virus. To do this, they first genetically sequenced the virus and used this to develop a series of potential vaccine candidates. Overall, the researchers wanted to develop a vaccine that would result in virus-like particles, or VLPs. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a virus-like particle is:
A small particle that contains certain proteins from the outer coat of a virus. Virus-like particles do not contain any genetic material from the virus and cannot cause an infection.
However, VLPs are beneficial because they introduce something similar to the virus to the immune system. As a result, the immune system begins to respond. The thought here is that, if ever introduced to the actual virus, the immune system would already be prepared. Outside of Zika virus, other vaccines using VLPs include those against hepatitis B and human papillomaviruses (HPV).
Zika Virus Vaccine Development
To create this vaccine, researchers used vaccinia virus as a viral vector. Viral vector vaccines use a modified virus to deliver a portion of genetic code for the antigen (in this case, Zika virus) to the body. Once the body addresses the antigen, it can create an immune defense.
Altogether, the research team created five separate potential vaccines using different genetic mutations. First, they analyzed how the specific mutations influenced the VLPs. After determining which vaccine created the most VLPs, they evaluated it using mice models of Zika virus. Ultimately, just a singular vaccination prompted immunity in mice, allowing for complete prevention of Zika transmission. Even after the vaccination, mice who were exposed to the virus did not become infected.
Most often spread by Aedes mosquitoes, Zika virus is a viral infection which can cause severe birth defects in fetuses. As a result, it is extremely dangerous to those who are pregnant. While the virus can be found in multiple locations, it is most common in the Pacific Islands, tropical Africa, and Southeast Asia. Outside of being spread by mosquitos, the virus may also be spread through blood transfusions or sex. Typically, symptoms manifest within 3-14 days of infection. These symptoms often last for around 1 week. In most cases, the infection is not severe and does not require hospitalization. Symptoms include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Conjunctivitis (eye redness)
Learn more about Zika virus.