In a major development that could lead to new ways of fighting the Zika virus disease, scientists have discovered an antibody with a potent ability to neutralise the virus. Scientists say the discovery of an antibody in the blood of infected people may lead to a new vaccine against the disease. “These antibodies could be very useful in the near future. One could envision, for example, administering Z004 to safely prevent Zika among pregnant women or others at risk of contracting the disease,” said Davide F Robbiani, a research associate professor at The Rockefeller University in the US. These antibodies appeared to have been initially generated in response to an earlier infection by a related virus that causes dengue. One such antibody, called Z004, was particularly effective at neutralising Zika. The team’s detailed examination of the interaction between this antibody and the virus also revealed a new potential strategy for developing a vaccine, said the study. For the research, scientists obtained blood samples from more than 400 Zika patients. Individual responses to the same pathogen can vary greatly. However, Z004 – an antibody from a Mexican volunteer’s blood – stood out as particularly effective. When given to mice vulnerable to Zika, the antibody protected them from developing serious infections. To get a closer look at the interaction between the antibody and a fragment of the virus’ envelope protein, scientists determined the molecular structure formed as the two units interacted. Their detailed maps revealed how the antibody pinches a ridge on the virus when it binds to it. While some efforts to develop a vaccine use all or most of the virus to stimulate the immune system, the researchers believe it could be safer to employ only a tiny fragment containing this ridge. Zika is not the only virus to sport the ridge, as it is also present in envelopes of other viruses in the same family.

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