Scientists at Belgium’s KU Leuven Rega Institute recently developed a new vaccine that should prevent Zika virus from causing microcephaly and other serious conditions in unborn babies.
The new research and subsequent vaccine are based on the yellow fever vaccine, a closely related virus transmitted by the same mosquito. It was tested on pregnant mice, who were then injected with Zika as well. Not only did it shield the babies from microcephaly — the smaller than average heads that are the most visible signs of the disease’s ravages — and other serious conditions, it completely protected the fetus’ brain and other organ function.
“We replaced a piece of the genetic information of the yellow fever vaccine with the corresponding code of the Zika virus,” Professor Johan Neyts said. “To engineer the vaccine, we used a new technology that we’d developed earlier in our lab and that makes it possible to produce the vaccine in fermenters instead of in fertilised chicken eggs. Another important advantage is that the vaccine remains stable, even at high temperatures. This makes a world of difference for a vaccine that is also intended for use in the most remote corners of tropical and subtropical areas.”
While the spread of Zika in Latin America, where it prominently broke out in 2015 and 2016, is largely under control today, the virus is still spread in certain areas through tiger mosquitoes.