Bioethics Blogs

Treating Zika Infection: Repurposed Drugs Show Promise

Caption: An NCATS researcher dispenses Zika virus into trays for compound screening in a lab using procedures that follow strict biosafety standards.
Credit: National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NIH

In response to the health threat posed by the recent outbreak of Zika virus in Latin America and its recent spread to Puerto Rico and Florida, researchers have been working at a furious pace to learn more about the mosquito-borne virus. Considerable progress has been made in understanding how Zika might cause babies to be born with unusually small heads and other abnormalities and in developing vaccines that may guard against Zika infection.

Still, there remains an urgent need to find drugs that can be used to treat people already infected with the Zika virus. A team that includes scientists at NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) now has some encouraging news on this front. By testing 6,000 FDA-approved drugs and experimental chemical compounds on Zika-infected human cells in the lab, they’ve shown that some existing drugs might be repurposed to fight Zika infection and prevent the virus from harming the developing brain [1]. While additional research is needed, the new findings suggest it may be possible to speed development and approval of new treatments for Zika infection.

The latest study, published in Nature Medicine, builds on an earlier discovery by Guo-li Ming and Hongjun Song of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and Hengli Tang of Florida State University, Tallahassee, that Zika virus readily infects human neural progenitor cells in lab dishes.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.