West Lafayette, Indiana – The structure of the Zika virus has been determined for the first time by researchers at Purdue University. New findings are fundamental to the development of antiviral treatments and vaccines, to fight the mosquito-transmitted virus that has been causing serious health complications to adults and newborns in 33 countries.

Moreover, they have identified differences between the Zika virus structure and similar viruses of the same family, including dengue, West Nile, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis. Results were published Thursday in the journal Science.

Scientists were able to determine the structure of the mosquito-brone Zika virus. Credit: Statnews.com

Unique regions in the structure of viruses can provide information about how they are transmitted and how they manifest as a disease, said Richard Kuhn, lead author of the study and director of the Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases in a press release issued Thursday.

“The structure of the virus provides a map that shows potential regions of the virus that could be targeted by a therapeutic treatment, used to create an effective vaccine or to improve our ability to diagnose and distinguish Zika infection from that of other related viruses,” added Kuhn.

He added that determining the structure of the Zika virus is a great advance for the scientific community. Early February, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Brazil’s Butantan Institute announced an alliance to develop a vaccine against the virus before future outbreaks occur.

Zika is a mosquito-borne disease, which has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect that causes seizures, developmental delay, intellectual disability, feeding problems and other symptoms, due to an altered development of a baby’s head, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It has also been related to Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder that attacks the nervous system, causing muscle weakness and sometimes temporal paralysis. However, the majority of infected people do not suffer from severe symptoms, explained the World Health Organization (WHO).

Study authors Richard Kuhn and Professor Rossmann, are planning to evaluate different regions of the Zika virus to impulse the creation of therapeutic molecules. They were the first researchers to map the structure of the dengue virus and West Nile virus in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

‘To fully protect Americans we must have the funds we need’

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said Friday morning that the Zika virus has arrived in Puerto Rico and is likely to reach the continental U.S. in the next months. As a response, health representatives will meet on Friday at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, to develop new Zika action plans.

He added in a blog post that the CDC need funds to continue developing plans to create a vaccine against the mosquito-transmitted disease, and continue evaluating the relationship between the disease and Zika-related manifestations such as microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

“Without Zika supplemental funding requested by the Obama administration, we won’t be able to provide the robust protection against Zika that Americans deserve. There is something everyone can do to control this emerging epidemic and to protect our next generation from this newly discovered threat, and we must act now,” Dr. Thomas wrote on Thursday. 

Source: Purdue University