New York: A drug used to prevent and treat malaria may also be effective against Zika virus, a study has found.
The medication, called chloroquine, has a long history of safe use during pregnancy, and is relatively inexpensive, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Zika virus remains a major global health risk. In most adults, Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms.
However in pregnant women, the virus can cause serious birth defects in babies - including microcephaly – a neurological condition in which newborns have unusually small heads and fail to develop properly.
There is no treatment or way to reverse the condition.
"There is still an urgent need to bolster our preparedness and capacity to respond to the next Zika outbreak," said Alexey Terskikh, from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) in the US.
"Our latest research suggests the anti-malaria drug chloroquine may be an effective drug to treat and prevent Zika infections," Terskikh said.
The study examined the effect of chloroquine in human brain organoids and pregnant mice infected with the virus, and found the drug markedly reduced the amount of Zika virus in maternal blood and neural progenitor cells in the fetal brain.
Pregnant mice received chloroquine through drinking water in dosages equivalent to acceptable levels used in humans.
"Chloroquine has a long history of successfully treating malaria, and there are no reports of it causing birth defects," said Terskikh.
"Additional studies are certainly needed to determine the precise details of how it works. But given its low cost, availability and safety history further study in a clinical trial to test its effectiveness against Zika virus in humans is merited," Terskikh added....