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Antimalarial Drug Repurposed to Treat and Prevent Zika Transmission
Chloroquine’s (CQ) success at treating and preventing the spread of malaria is almost immeasurable. The compound was initially developed prior to World War II and initially showed amazing efficacy against the parasitic disease. In combination with vector (mosquito) control efforts to stymie transmission rates, using compounds such as DDT, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched initiatives to eradicate malaria globally. Unfortunately, by the mid-1970’s, resistance to CQ had reached a point where the drug was no longer effective in many parts of Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, CQ’s initial effectiveness had researchers searching for other uses of the compound—uncovering efficacy in treating diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. These findings, plus its extremely low-cost to manufacture, are why the drug remains on the WHO’s List of Essential Medicines.
Now, researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) and UC San Diego School of Medicine may have discovered a new use for the long-standing compound—treating Zika. The investigators examined the effect of CQ in human brain organoids and pregnant mice infected with Zika and found the drug markedly reduced the amount of virus in maternal blood and neural progenitor cells in the fetal brain. Findings from the new study were published today in Scientific Reports in an article entitled “Repurposing of the Anti-Malaria Drug Chloroquine for Zika Virus Teatment and Prophylaxis.”
Zika virus remains a major global health risk. In most adults, Zika causes mild flu-like symptoms. But 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. CQ has a long history of safe use during pregnancy.
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