A joint team from Fudan University and the Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology has developed a peptide-based viral inactivator that can inhibit the Zika virus.
It has proven effective on mice and scientists hope it can be developed into an antiviral treatment for humans. The results were published on the website Nature Communications on Tuesday.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause low-grade fever, a red, lumpy rash, or conjunctivitis. In some cases it can cause severe congenital brain developmental abnormalities, including microcephaly, in fetuses. Microcephaly results in babies having an abnormally small head. Zika can also trigger Guillain-Barre syndrome, damaging the peripheral nervous system. Zika also can damage the testis of mice, causing infertility.
First found in rhesus monkeys in Uganda in 1947, the virus infected humans only sporadically before 2007. But in 2007, it began spreading and more than 80 countries and regions had reported cases by March this year through the Asia-Pacific region, Africa and the Americas.
Last year, the World Health Organization said the Zika pandemic in South America was a "public health emergency of international concern."
Currently, there is no specific anti-Zika therapeutic treatment or vaccine and the focus is on the development of effective and safe antiviral drugs and vaccines for worldwide treatment and prevention, the research team said.
As most research focuses on small-molecule compounds and antibody drugs, the Fudan-Beijing team chose to develop peptide-based drugs featuring better safety and lower development costs.
The team developed a synthetic peptide derived from the stem region of the Zika envelope protein, designated Z2, which can inhibit infection of Zika and other flaviviruses in vitro. The team found Z2 can interact with Zika surface protein and disrupt the integrity of the viral membrane.