US scientists have developed a new plant-based vaccine for treating the Zika virus. Researchers believe it might be the cheapest, safest and most effective vaccine ever created for any other mosquito-virus.

Zika virus has expanded and infected millions all over the Americas since it emerged on 2015. The virus is carried by the Aedes mosquito, and it’s transmitted through its bite. The disease affects mostly pregnant women, whose babies tend to be born with severe brain defects.

US scientists have developed a new plant-based vaccine for treating the Zika virus. Image credit: Manjurul Haque / EyeEm / Getty / New Scientist
US scientists have developed a new plant-based vaccine for treating the Zika virus. Image credit: Manjurul Haque / EyeEm / Getty / New Scientist

Whole governments, academic labs, and pharmaceutical companies have raced to create Zika vaccines since global health experts first realized the dangers the mosquito-borne virus represented. Many early animal and human tests have had promising results. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first human testing of a Zika, vaccine candidate, but currently, there’s still no licensed vaccine for treating the Zika virus.

The cheapest, safest and most potent vaccine ever created for mosquito-virus

Mice subjected to immunization experiments ended as a complete success when researchers introduced antibody and cellular immune response to protect their systems against multiple Zika virus strains.

The vaccine was created by scientists from the Arizona State University (ASU). They obtained a protein from tobacco plant called DIII, which envelopes and attacks an essential part of a Zika viral protein that plays a key role for the virus when infecting people. Experts have never seen a vaccine like this one before due to its coast and development. It is the first plant-based vaccine created for mosquito-virus.

ASU researchers specialize in developing these kind of plant-based vaccines, especially using tobacco plants. They have been producing them for more than a decade in a very cheap way, helping to fight the expansion of many diseases around the world.

By developing this protein without the dangerous virus within it, it could be used to immunize people to the real strain of Zika, researchers said.

“We did a test to make sure that the vaccine produces a potent protective immune response, but also, that it does not produce antibodies that may be cross reactive for dengue, West Nile, yellow fever or others,” Biodesign Center for IVV investigator, professor in the School of Life Sciences and ASU lead researcher Qiang “Shawn” Chen said to the Scientists Reports. “Our vaccine offers improved safety and potentially lowers the production costs more than any other current alternative, and with equivalent effectiveness”.

Although the vaccine is cheap and effective, it’s not foolproof

Usually, the vaccine creates antibodies to shield and protect the subject from becoming infected when exposed to the virus. It has shown good results in mice infected with Zika, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t exist other effects on humans.

Many complications might occur when producing the vaccine. Thus, representing a huge risk for the animal or person who receives the treatment. Anyone runs the risk of receiving the virus instead of injecting the vaccine. Since envelope protein domains I and II are similar to West Nile and dengue viruses, this can cause a dangerous cross-reactive immune response.

“Above all, we have to ensure the utmost safety with any Zika vaccine, especially because the people who will need it most, pregnant women, have the most worries about their own health, and the health of the foetus. This has to be 100 per cent safe and effective,” Chen explained.

Source: Science Daily