A research conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine has unveiled that a commonly used malaria drug hydroxychloroquine can effectively block the Zika virus from crossing the placenta and getting into the foetus and damaging its brain.
The drug hydroxychloroquine already has approval for use in pregnant women.
The study was published in July 2017 in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.
How the drug protects the foetus from Zika virus?
• The placenta acts as a barrier to protect the developing foetus from disease-causing organisms. It prevents pathogens from reaching the foetus through a form of a garbage recycling system that removes some components of cells, which is termed as autophagy.
• Zika virus holds the power influence the garbage recycling system to its own advantage. The Zika infection ramps up autophagy. Therefore, when a drug is used that inhibits or suppresses this ramping up, the virus can be blocked from infecting the foetus.
• To understand how the Zika virus crosses the placenta and infects the foetus, the researchers infected human placental cells.
• They found that the Zika virus activated the genes related to autophagy and heightened the destructive recycling system activity.
• However, treating the cells with drugs that restrain autophagy resulted in significant decrease in Zika virus replication about two days after infection.
• On the other hand, when drugs that promote the cell recycling process were administered, the virus grew rapidly and caused increased viral infection.
About hydroxychloroquine drug
• Hydroxychloroquine is a medication used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria.
• The drug is specifically used for chloroquine sensitive malaria.
• It appears to be safe in pregnancy; however, this use has not been well studied.
• The drug was approved for medical use in the United States in 1955.
• It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.
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