Scientists in Singapore identify potential way to tackle Zika virus spread

Test tubes with blood samples from patients who have been tested for Zika are seen at the maternity ward of the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, Honduras April 15, 2016. — Reuters picTest tubes with blood samples from patients who have been tested for Zika are seen at the maternity ward of the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, Honduras April 15, 2016. — Reuters picSINGAPORE, April 20 — Scientists in Singapore have successfully reconstructed a high-resolution structure of the Zika virus, opening up possibilities on how to treat the virus with potent antibodies or drugs.

They found that the overall Zika virus architecture was similar to other flaviviruses like dengue, but more thermally and structurally stable due to tighter interactions between the Zika virus surface proteins, which help the virus attach to a host cell. 

This could explain why the virus was resilient enough that it could be transmitted via sexual contact, scientists at Duke-NUS Medical School said.

This discovery could lead to future developments where the Zika virus could potentially be destablised by potent antibiotics or drugs, said the study’s senior author Associate Professor Shee-Mei Lok. 

No suitable antibodies or drugs have been identified thus far, said Lok, who is working to understand the effect of potent antibodies on the Zika virus.

Lok added there is a potential to develop a safe vaccine with reduced side effects.

The findings were published online yesterday in the journal Nature.

To reconstruct the Zika virus structure, the team imaged the virus under a cryo-electron microscope from a large number of purified viral particles, and pieced together thousand of images.

“Our structure will provide important clues to other researchers around the world who are working to find therapeutic agents against the Zika virus,” Lok said.

In February, the Zika virus was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a public health emergency of international concern.

As of last Thursday, 42 countries are experiencing a first outbreak of Zika virus since 2015, with no previous evidence of circulation, according to WHO data.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also confirmed last week that “there is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly” — a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and other severe brain defects.

In South-east Asia, Vietnam reported its first case of Zika about three weeks ago. Various countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Thailand and East Malaysia, have also reported cases of the mosquito-borne virus.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in a statement in January that it was “inevitable” the Zika would eventually be imported to Singapore. Senior Minister of State (Health) Amy Khor reiterated this message on Sunday during a Zika-related event.

The MOH and the NEA have put in place control measures, such as the testing of suspected cases of the virus being expanded to public hospital laboratories and islandwide inspections to uncover mosquito breeding habitats, as a means to control the potential spread. — TODAY

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