Researchers in the United States (U.S.) have intentionally infected humans with the Zika virus for the first time, which could help advance our understanding of the disease and accelerate efforts to develop treatments and vaccines.
Namely, researchers have found a way to safely and effectively infect human volunteers with the Zika virus for the first time, according to results presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Chicago this weekend.
The researchers, led by Johns Hopkins professor Anna Durbin, recruited 28 female volunteers to see if they could safely become infected with one of two different strains of Zika, all of whom agreed to stay in the medical unit until they were no longer contagious and for their own safety.
Of the 20 women who were intentionally infected with the virus—10 for each strain and the remaining eight given an inert placebo—all developed laboratory-confirmed infections, but only mild disease.
Such studies, often called challenge studies or controlled human infection models, open the door for researchers to investigate how the immune system responds when exposed to a particular pathogen and facilitate the testing of new vaccines and treatments.
Krishanthi Subramaniam, a researcher at Britain’s University of Liverpool who is part of the team developing the Zika vaccine, stated that a Zika human challenge model would be “extremely valuable” to researchers like her and could mark a “turning point” for the effort to test new vaccines and treatments.
Scientists have known about the Zika virus since it was first discovered in the forest of the same name in Uganda in 1947, but it was considered an obscure and benign infection. In most people, the mosquito-borne virus causes no or mild symptoms.
That perspective changed in 2015 when part of an outbreak of the Zika virus occurred across Brazil and the U.S., where it was linked to a variety of neurological birth defects among children born to parents who were infected with the virus while pregnant, Forbes reports.