Gene-altered mice will speed up Zika drug development

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Texas scientists have found a genetically engineered mouse that will allow researchers to test experimental compounds against the Zika virus, a step that could speed up the development of drugs and vaccines.

Researchers need to be able to test experimental drugs on mice before trying them on humans.

But garden variety lab mice don’t respond to Zika the way humans do, said Shannan Rossi, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and lead author of a study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Normal mice don’t get sick after being infected with Zika, Rossi said. So testing potential drugs on them doesn’t work.

But Rossi and her colleagues were able to find a type of genetically engineered mouse that does become sick when infected with Zika. These mice, which have been used in research labs for years, have been altered so that their immune systems don’t mount the usual, early defense against viruses that’s critical to preventing disease.

When researchers injected young genetically altered mice with Zika, the animals became lethargic, lost weight and died within six days. Older mice became ill but didn’t always develop infection, and they eventually recovered, according to the study.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus linked to a birth defect known as microcephaly, which results in small heads and brain damage in infants. It has also been linked to infant eye abnormalities and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disorder that can cause temporary paralysis.

 

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