• Researchers at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi have found a drug Hydroxychloroquine or HCQ, that is already being used for treating malaria to be effective in inhibiting Zika virus growth and replication.
  • Also, the drug was able to significantly reduce viral load in placental cells.
  • Zika virus is known to damage and kill the placental cells (which act as a barrier to protect the developing foetus from disease-causing organisms) leading to foetal infection.
  • The drug might therefore help in preventing vertical transmission of Zika virus from the placenta to the foetus.
  • Since the HCQ drug is already approved for use in pregnancy, positive results in human trials will mean that it can be given to pregnant women infected with Zika to reduce the chances of vertical transmission.
  • Some foetuses infected with Zika virus are born with a small head (microcephaly).
  • The Zika protease enzyme is a good target for drug action as inhibition of the protease stops Zika virus growth.
  • The placenta acts as a barrier and prevents any pathogens from reaching the foetus through a form of garbage recycling system that removes some components of cells.
  • When the placenta is infected with Zika virus, the autophagy gets ramped up thus allowing the virus to enter the foetus.
  • But in the presence of the drug, the ramping up of autophagy is prevented thus inhibiting the virus from infecting the foetus.