BY SHARON WASHIO
The infamous Zika virus has been plaguing our lives and travel plans throughout the past year. Transferred widely by Aedes mosquitoes, the symptoms vary from nervous system disorders such as the Guillain-Barré syndrome, to even none at all. The true, insidious hazard of the virus lies in its ability to affect pregnancies in a way that produces microcephalic children, whose quality of life decreases dramatically with the onset of disabilities. The lack of vaccines or a cure keeps many of those who live in afflicted areas scramble for protection from mosquitoes.
With such high societal risks associated with the disease, researchers have been making assiduous efforts to develop a vaccine. Earlier this year in March, scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had a goal of running tests later in the year, which is an incredibly accelerated test plan, according to BBC News (Mazumdar). Fast forward to the present, researchers have already started running trials on humans, which have been preceded by successful tests on mice and monkeys.
This accelerated progress has been due to DNA vaccine procedures, in which the vaccine itself is not able to cause disease, since it only utilizes the structure of the virus. In the case of Zika, vaccines have been made utilizing the “precursor transmembrane M (prM) and envelope (E) proteins” of the virus (National Library of Medicine). As a result, DNA vaccines are very safe and are administered directly into cells, which often means that there are no needles involved. This recently discovered methodology is in fact a much simpler process than the standard live or inactivated vaccines we are accustomed to. However, to this date, DNA vaccines have stumbled at the testing stage and were never approved to be widely distributed, although considering this line of extensive research and impressive progress thus far, positive test results against the Zika virus seem to not be a distant reality.
Currently the first series of clinical trials, dubbed “Phase 1”, is testing for immunity and possible side effects of the vaccine in participants ranging from 18 to 35 year olds. The participants will have the vaccine injected more than once over the course of several weeks. The studies are still recruiting subjects in centers located in Georgia and Maryland. If all goes well, researchers have high hopes of a vaccine set for the public by the end of these clinical trials in 2018.
News Report: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-35727047
Zika overview: https://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/overview.html
DNA vaccines: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02840487
Zika clinical trials (National Library of Medicine): https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02840487