University of Massachusetts Medical School researchers, among scientists worldwide working to fight the Zika virus, have identified proteins that naturally block the virus’s infection.
Assistant Professor Dr. Abraham Brass, lead author of the study published in Cell Reports on the discovery, said the work represents the first look at how cells defend themselves against Zika attack. The protein they’ve identified, known as IFITM3, is present in all our bodies and can dramatically reduce the ability of the Zika virus to infect mouse and human cells.
“They’re very small, and they’re pretty much in all our cells,” Brass said of the proteins. “And we’ve found as we work with them that they stop a growing list of viruses, in this case Zika virus.”
In their research, the UMass team worked with one of the first cases of Zika that was isolated in the 1950s. When they saw that this virus was blocked by the protein, they tried it on more recent infections–such as samples from a patient infected in Puerto Rico in 2015–with successful results.
Dr. Brass told WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Diane Stern that these are early days, but he hopes that there will one day be a pill that can be taken to stop these viruses cold.
“Now that we’ve found that the proteins act this way, we’d like to try to make use of that with a small molecule that could trigger that action, or increase or boost that action,” said Dr. Brass. “Finding a drug to increase their actions is a long way off, but that’s our goal.”
He said the proteins also stop the infection of dengue virus, ebola, and flu.