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HKU Discovers Potential Treatments for Zika Virus Infection-Associated Complications

20 Nov 2016

Researchers from Department of Microbiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong (HKU) established a new animal model for studying the pathogenesis and testing treatments and vaccines for Zika virus.  The team found that mice immunosuppressed with steroid developed disseminated infection and inflammation in multiple organs, including the testis. The mice were effectively treated by recombinant interferon therapies.  The work has been published online in the international scientific journal EBioMedicine.
About Zika virus
Local transmission of Zika virus has been reported in over 70 countries in the world, including some countries in Southeast Asia.  Hong Kong has recently reported the second imported case of Zika virus infection.  The virus can be spread not only by mosquitoes, but also via other routes, such as sexual and transplacental transmissions.  Recently, Zika virus was found to be associated with congenital microcephaly and severe neurological complications in infected patients.  The clinical complications of Zika virus infection remain incompletely understood and there are currently no approved treatments for treating Zika virus infection.  Therefore, the development of an animal model is important to facilitate the study on the pathogenesis and evaluation of treatments for Zika virus infection.
Study method and findings
In order to understand how Zika virus may affect immunocompromised hosts, the HKU research team used steroid to immunosuppress mice before and after inoculating them with Zika virus.  In addition to detecting high viral loads in multiple organs, they additionally found that many organs had prominent inflammatory changes after steroid withdrawal.  Importantly, they found the testes of the mice to be severely damaged.  They further tested the effects of two clinically approved recombinant interferons and showed that the mice treated with either of these drugs had significantly better survival and reduced virus burden and inflammation as compared to the mice without treatment. 
Research implications
The identification of orchitis is important because it is possible that this will also happen in male patients with Zika virus infection.  Long-term follow up to monitor the fertility and testicular function should be considered in these patients.  Interferon treatment should be considered in patients in whom the potential benefits outweigh the side effects of the drugs. 
About the research team
The research team is led by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, Henry Fok Professor in Infectious Diseases, Chair Professor of Department of Microbiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, HKU, the Co-Director of the State Key Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Dr Jasper Chan Fuk-woo, Clinical Assistant Professor of Department of Microbiology, and Dr Anna Zhang Jinxia, Research Assistant Professor of Department of Microbiology, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, HKU.
To use the press release photo(s) for any publishing, publicity and related purpose, photo courtesy should be given to “Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong”.
photo 1

The photo shows that an abundant amount of Zika virus antigens can be found in the testis of a mouse without interferon treatment.