Researchers At Johns Hopkins Test Arthritis Drug As Possible Zika Virus Treatment
Some time ago, the Zika virus began making a scare among Americans after several cases were reported in Texas and Florida. The virus has little effect on a grown human, but if that human ever plans on having kids, Zika can cause a variety of birth defects as well as infant mortality.
While Zika is a constant presence across the tropics, its lack of footprint within the United States is reported by the CDC. The flare-up ended and new epidemic scares like Ebola and Measles replaced it. Yet because the virus still causes tragic effects in children every year, Johns Hopkins have been testing an already FDA-approved drug as a treatment method.
In experiments with pregnant mice infected with the Zika virus, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers successfully used a long-standing immunosuppressive drug to diminish the rate of fetal deaths and birth defects in the mice’s offspring.
The drug, anakinra, once commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases in newborns and adults, appears to interfere with inflammation in the pregnant animals’ placentas, as well as the fetal brains. A report on the findings was published in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insights.
Taking a Shortcut
“Until now, the focus of research has been on finding vaccines and antiviral drugs, but our study strongly suggests that the placental immune response should not be overlooked as a target for treatment,” says Irina Burd, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics and director of the Integrated Research Center for Fetal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“Using an FDA-approved drug already shown to be safe in infants shortens the time that we may be able to quickly start clinical trials and get a potentially effective preventative measure approved and available to help decrease the harmful effects of Zika”.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10% of babies born in the U.S. to women with a Zika infection during pregnancy develop fetal brain birth defects that range from slow head growth to brain abnormalities.
The researchers noted that more fetal mice treated in utero with anakinra survived to full-term birth compared to untreated mice. In the pregnant mice with Zika, 39.2% of the mothers had fetal deaths, while those who had been given the drug had only 20.8%. They also found that brain immune-cells infected with Zika would produce less additional immune-cells when given anakinra, an effect the researchers say indicates a reduction in inflammation.
While the remaining 20% fetal deaths could represent someone’s child, that particular piece of data may not be wholly comforting, but there were some even more significant results. For instance, Zika has been known to cause birth defects such as knotted muscles, shrunken limbs, and fused toes and fingers.
Eight days of in utero exposure to the virus, 1.8% of the 322 mice infected with Zika but not given the drug had such birth defects. Impressively, none of the baby mice given the drug in utero showed signs of these birth defects.
“Currently, there is no cure for Zika, but our study suggests that there may be FDA-approved medications like anakinra that have the potential to combat some of the worst effects of the virus,” says Sabra Klein, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
It can take more than 5 years to get a drug from laboratory and experimental testing stages, through to clinical trials, and finally available to the public. An already approved medication could slash a massive chunk of time off the process, and save hundreds of infants.