A team of biologists at the University of Queensland in Australia found that antibodies to the NS1 protein, which circulates in the blood of a person infected with Zika virus, can be used in the treatment of other flaviviruses, such as yellow fever or dengue fever.
In 2015, one of the study’s authors, Professor Daniel Watterson, stated that his team found that these antibodies were able to improve survival rates for Zika-infected lab mice.
Now, they have been able to demonstrate for the first time that a single antibody of the NS1 protein [non-structural protein 1] can protect you against multiple flaviviruses, including dengue, Zika, and West Nile virus.
The researcher stressed that this is the first time an antibody has shown such a wide range of protection and described the effectiveness of using the antibody “really unexpected” compared to the current treatment.
In the paper published in the journal Science, Watterson and his colleagues explained that in many cases, antibodies directed against viral wrapping, or a membrane surrounding the virus, can aggravate symptoms of the disease, a phenomenon called antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). This phenomenon hindered the large-scale launch of the first dengue vaccine.
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However, NS1 antibodies do not cause ADE, making it possible to create safe and broad-spectrum vaccines against various flaviviruses. The study’s lead author, Naphak Modhiran, said this will also help create a kind of “line of defense” against hypothetical outbreaks around the world.
“The antibody works with a wide range of flaviviruses, such as the Usutu virus in Europe or the Rocio and Ilheus viruses in Latin America. These viruses have already caused local outbreaks in the past and have the potential to become the new Zika,” Modhiran warned.
Another researcher, Paul Young, recalled that antibodies of this type were discovered more than three decades ago and since then have contributed to a better understanding of the biology of dengue and development of the diagnosis of the disease.
“It’s great to see them now progressing as potential templates for therapeutics,” he said.