How A Tapeworm Drug Could Protect Babies From Zika Microcephaly

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The hunt for drugs to help fight the effects of Zika rolls on. But according to new research, one option may have been hiding in plain sight.

For the study, published online today in Nature Medicine, researchers at Florida State University tested about 6,000 drugs and compounds to see if they could keep the Zika virus from replicating. Crucially, all of them were either already being used in clinical trials or were already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — the idea being that, with these hurdles passed, getting one of the compounds to consumers would be that much easier.

Looking at human nerve cells infected with Zika, the team found that treatment with several of the drugs they tested — plus some combinations of those compounds — kept the virus from replicating, a key step in preventing the worst effects of the virus in babies, such as microcephaly. One of the compounds in particular was interesting because it's the basis of niclosamide, a drug already used to kill tapeworms. Additionally, animal studies haven't shown any reason to worry that the drug could be harmful for pregnant women to take. Since it's already approved, doctors could theoretically prescribe it today, but figuring out the treatment plan specifically for Zika will take more research.

Although exciting, it's important to remember that these are still early results. "There is no evidence yet that niclosamide is effective [at preventing Zika-virus replication] in the body," one of the study's authors, Hongjun Song, PhD, told AFP. "Additional animal studies, and then human clinical trials, are necessary."

Previous research has suggested that niclosamide might also be helpful for MRSA infections. So we'll have to watch this versatile drug closely.

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