A new research has indicated that a synthetic DNA vaccine approach has been able to successfully protect against infection, brain damage and death caused by the mosquito-borne Zika virus in-vivo.

There are currently no licensed therapies or vaccines to protect against the Zika virus.

In this preclinical study conducted by the Wistar Institute, all of the animal models were protected after vaccination followed by a challenge with the Zika virus.

In addition, they were protected from degeneration in the cerebral cortex and hippocampal areas of the brain, while the other cohort showed the brain's degeneration after Zika infection.

"As the threat of Zika continues, these results provide insight into a new aspect of the possibly protective ability of such a vaccine as a preventative approach for Zika infection."

Wistar Institute executive vice president and vaccine centre director David B. Weiner said: “Our results support the critical importance of immune responses for both preventing infection, as well as ameliorating disease caused by the Zika virus.

“As the threat of Zika continues, these results provide insight into a new aspect of the possibly protective ability of such a vaccine as a preventative approach for Zika infection.”

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This research is the first of its kind to analyse a vaccine in an animal model that is susceptible to the disease, offering information regarding the protective impact of the immune response in susceptible individuals.  

Previous research of the Zika virus has tested vaccines in animal models that are naturally resistant to the disease, which is significantly extended by the study.

In the latest research, Weiner and team indicated how a synthetic DNA vaccine expressed specific antigens for Zika in-vivo.

The researchers found that this novel vaccine generated robust antigen-specific antibody and T-cell responses that neutralised the virus in preclinical animal models.

Furthermore, they found that the vaccine provided protection against the disease and death in animal models while also being neuroprotective, indicating that the disease was unable to spread to the brain.

This is significant given the risk that infants born with the disease have of developing microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in an abnormally small head that may prevent the brain from developing properly.

This Zika vaccine is being developed together by Inovio, The Wistar Institute, and GeneOne Life Science and is currently being examined in two human clinical studies.

Inovio expects to report phase I data from the first 40-subject study that is to be conducted in Miami, Philadelphia and Quebec City by the end of this year.

In August, the companies also began a second study in 160 subjects in Puerto Rico.