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Ohio State researchers progress toward Zika vaccine

A Zika virus vaccine developed at Ohio State has shown to be an encouraging prospect for human trial.

If proven safe and effective, it could be the first known human Zika vaccine developed. Ohio State researchers published their findings in the Natural Communications journal in early August.

According to a news release from Ohio State, Jianrong Li, associate professor at Ohio State and lead researcher of this study, said the vaccine is extremely effective and has proven to be provisionally successful.

While the vaccine still needs to be tested on humans, it showed positive responses in mice. In the study, the vaccine transmitted up to three Zika proteins that activate the mouse immune system. By doing so, it was able to prevent the mouse from later contracting the virus.

“In this study, the vaccine was potent, safe and highly effective, at least in the short term,” Li said in the news release. “There’s a long way to go, but we think this is a promising candidate for a human vaccine.”

Though the Center for Disease Control reported the Zika virus was first discovered in 1947, there were no major outbreaks until 2007 in the Federated States of Micronesia. In 2015, a major outbreak struck the globe again, putting at least 170 million people at risk of contracting the virus.

According to the CDC, pregnant mothers who contracted the virus were 20 times more likely to give birth to a child with defects such as microcephaly, a medical condition when the circumference of the head is smaller due to brain development abnormalities. In some cases, the virus also caused a number of other issues to strike such as hyperreflexia — over-responsive reflexes — seizures and even miscarriages.

Typically, vaccines are made up of small doses of the virus. This dose is inserted into the body, developing antibodies of the virus, which will then recognize and destroy any incoming invaders fitting the virus’ description.

Revising ways to develop the vaccine, the Ohio State team of researchers decided to use vesicular stomatitis virus, an animal virus coming from the same family as rabies, in order to carry the Zika proteins into the mouse. Using a weakened form of VSV is not a new concept. It has been successfully used against Ebola and is now showing true potential in destroying brain tumors in the lab as well.

By using VSV in this newly-developed vaccine, Ohio State researchers were able to activate the proteins that were now injected into the mouse. This eventually led to the slow construction of an immune defense against the virus.

To help elucidate the findings, the experiment focused on using mice with fragile immune systems. Using these specific mice allowed for the effects of the vaccine to be highlighted and show the true response that took place in the mouse. This also helped provide the researchers with a better understanding of the vaccine and gave them assurance that the mouse was able to effectively eradicate the virus from its system.

The study has recently been getting more attention and has been presented at a scientific conference in Italy by Anzhong Li, a graduate student and first author of the study.

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