A drug already in use to treat malaria and certain autoimmune diseases in pregnant women has shown promise in reducing transmission of Zika virus from mothers to their foetuses, according to a new study led by an Indian-origin researcher.
The drug, Hydroxychloroquine, works by inhibiting autophagy, a process by which cells remove toxins and recycle damaged components to generate energy. Researchers showed that Zika virus may manipulate this process in the placenta to infect the developing foetus.
In a study published online in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, the researchers, led by Indira Mysorekar from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, showed how the drug appeared to reduce transmission of Zika virus from pregnant mice to their foetuses.
“Zika virus infection during pregnancy can lead to a devastating array of birth defects, including microcephaly, abnormal reflexes, epilepsy, and problems with vision, hearing and digestion,” said Catherine Spong, Deputy director of US National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which funded the work.