Scientists Make Impressive Steps Toward Zika Vaccine

Photo of author

( — June 18, 2016) — 

Ever since the Zika virus appeared and began its steady creep toward U.S. borders, researchers have been searching in earnest for a vaccine. Because the Zika virus can cause severe birth defects if a pregnant woman gets infected, its spread been called a public health crisis, and some doctors have even warned women not to get pregnant until the scare passes.

Vaccine Challenges

As a result, the world is actively seeking a vaccination that will protect humans from the effects of the Zika virus, and possibly even eradicate the illness. Many challenges have stood in the way, however.

Lack of funding is a major roadblock for many researchers. As a method of securing funding, many companies have been seeking public investments. Novavox Inc., for example, is a British firm that offers penny stocks to attract more investors.

Though penny stocks have had the reputation of being highly volatile, Novavox recognizes its appeal for investors who would like to get rich quickly on just a small investment. Since the company has been able to report some exciting new developments recently, the chances of success are fairly good for both developers and investors. 

Recent Advances

Every time there’s a new development with the potential Zika vaccine, it’s been cause for much interest and excitement in the medical world. Recently, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston were able to genetically clone the Zika virus, which is a major step toward the eventual production of a vaccine.

Now researchers have the ability to make the virus in test tubes and study it on Petri dishes, which means they can break down the components and discover how to fight it. They’ll also be able to test the efficiency of their vaccine attempts now that they can replicate the virus.

Lead researcher Pei-Yong Shi is optimistic that this step will lead very soon to trials on animals, and that clinical trials could start as early as next year. “But of course this will depend on whether we see serious side effects. We don’t even know yet what the full impact of Zika is, besides microcephaly and some other neurological diseases,” Shi told CNN.

Optimism Spreads

Now that one research group has been able to duplicate the virus, the information may be shared with other facilities in order to speed up the process of finding an answer. Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, for example, readily welcomed the news and looked for ways to apply it to their own investigations.

“The Zika virus took all of us by surprise, and one of the difficulties in developing preventative measures has been the lack of tools available to test the vaccine. So a development like this will help for sure,” says Arturo Reyes-Sandoval, an associate professor at the Jenner Institute and an active researcher in pursuit of the vaccine.

UK expert Dr. Tom Blanchard of Manchester University is also optimistic about the research. His organization has been working to see how the smallpox vaccination might be used to develop a solution for Zika.

“The challenge for people like us who are developing vaccines is to separate out the harmful effects of the virus from the beneficial effects,” he says. “We want to have something that will replicate but will not cause damage. Research such as this could help.”

Scientists involved in the research are still racing for the cure, but the news that it could go to clinical trials by the beginning of next year is more than welcome, particularly in South America, where the disease has already ravaged thousands and left hundreds of babies with severe birth defects.

The hope is not only to develop the vaccine, but also drugs to help lessen the effects on pregnant women who get infected by the virus.