Repurposed Drug for Zika

SAN DIEGO -- The Zika epidemic started raging in 2015, terrifying the world with images of newborns with terrible congenital disabilities. One researcher, originally from Brazil, is using brain stem cells to find a drug that could treat or even cure infected people.

Dr. Alysson Muotri never thought he'd find a potential cure for Zika in his stem cell lab at UC San Diego School of Medicine. He started searching for a virus like Zika, and he found one in early 2016.

"When we aligned the genome or the genetic material from the Hepatitis C virus and the Zika virus, we noticed that they are from the same family and they share a region that is very similar between these two," said Muotri.

It's the region the viruses use to replicate. Muotri tested the Hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir on brain stem cell models he calls "mini brains." This photo on the left shows healthy brain cells; the middle one shows that Zika kills the cells. On the right, sofosbuvir kept the virus from killing brain cells. Animal tests gave the same results.

Muotri explained, "The moms got very clean from the virus. There is no circulating virus in the body, and as a consequence, the fetuses are protected."

Dr. Miguel Del Campo, a Clinical Geneticist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, has worked with Zika moms and babies since the beginning of the epidemic. Most research is focused on a vaccine, so he's encouraged by the possibility of a treatment.

"If we can prevent infection or we can decrease the magnitude of the consequences in the baby's brain, that'll be great," said Dr. Del Campo.

Muotri knows it's early, but he's hopeful.

"The drug seems to work really nice, and it is a drug that is already available. So it encourages us to move on into clinical trials," Muotri shared.

Muotri says it'll take three to four months to get access to sofosbuvir and to start human clinical trials. Muotri is excited it's only taken two years from proving Zika caused the congenital disabilities to begin clinical trials for a potential cure. American mosquitos are most active during dusk hours and will come out of hibernation at 50 degrees.

Scott Lafee, PR