Repurposed Drug for Zika


SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — The Zika epidemic started raging in 2015, terrifying the world with images of newborns with terrible birth defects. One researcher, originally from Brazil, is using brain stem cells to find a drug that could treat or even cure infected people.

Alysson Muotri, PhD, and Stem Cell Program Director, never thought he’d find a potential cure for Zika in his stem cell lab at UC San Diego School of Medicine. He started searching for a virus like Zika, and he found one in early 2016.

“When we aligned the genome or the genetic material from the Hepatitis C virus and the Zika virus, we noticed that they are from the same family and they share a region that is very similar between these two,” said Muotri. (Read Full Interview)

It’s the region the viruses use to replicate. Muotri tested the Hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir on brain stem cell models he calls “mini brains.” This photo on the left shows healthy brain cells, the middle one shows that Zika kills the cells. On the right, sofosbuvir kept the virus from killing brain cells. Animal tests gave the same results.

Muotri explained, “The moms got very clean from the virus. There is no circulating virus in the body, and as a consequence, the fetuses are protected.”

Miguel Del Campo MD, PhD, a Clinical Geneticist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine has worked with Zika moms and babies since the beginning of the epidemic. Most research is focused on a vaccine, so he’s encouraged by the possibility of a treatment.

“If we can prevent infection or we can decrease the magnitude of the consequences in the baby’s brain, that’ll be great,” said Dr. Del Campo.

Muotri knows it’s early, but he’s hopeful.

“The drug seems to work really nice, and it is a drug that is already available. So it encourages us to move on into clinical trials,” Muotri shared.

Muotri says it’ll take three to four months to get access to sofosbuvir and to start human clinical trials.  Muotri is excited it’s only taken two years from proving Zika caused the birth defects to starting clinical trials for a potential cure. American mosquitos are most active during dusk hours, and will come out of hibernation at 50 degrees.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: The Zika virus causes birth defects in babies born to some infected pregnant women, including microcephaly, where babies are born with underdeveloped heads and brain damage. Zika has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves. It’s mainly spread through mosquitoes. The CDC has confirmed Zika can spread through sex, usually after a person traveled to an area where Zika has broken out, got the virus, and gave the virus to a sex partner who did not travel. Infected women and men can both pass the virus to sex partners, even if they haven’t shown symptoms of infection, the CDC says. In addition, infected pregnant women can pass the virus on to their fetus.



TREATMENT: The CDC states: “There is no specific medicine or vaccine for Zika virus.” They advise to treat the symptoms, get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, take medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain. Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of bleeding, and if you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication. The CDC also says you can reduce your risk of mosquito bites by using insect repellent, wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, and using screens on windows and doors.




REPURPOSED DRUG: Researchers, like Alysson R. Muotri, PhD, the director of the stem cell program at UC San Diego, are looking for a way to treat Zika. Muotri found a drug that has previously been used to treat hepatitis C. He said, “To our surprise the virus not only infected these cells but killed them in such a fast fashion that at the end of the day what you ended up with cells that are dying, reducing the cortical thickness, a key feature of the microcephalic babies.” Muotri and colleagues have tested the drug on mouse models and human stem cell models, and they are hoping to start clinical trials soon. So far they are pleased with the speed of the process; from the beginning of the demonstration of causation, to the finding of a promising drug, has been within two years. That is extremely fast compared to the usual time slot of ten years for a drug to get FDA approved.

(Source: Alysson R. Muotri, PhD &



Scott Lafee, PR


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