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University of Hawaii researchers develop potential Zika vaccine

University of Hawaii medical school researchers have developed a potential vaccine for the Zika virus. The Zika virus can cause birth defects when women are infected during pregnancy.

While there is no cure or immunization again the virus — spread primarily by mosquitos and through sex — scientists at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine have proven the effectiveness of a vaccine in protecting both mice and monkeys from the infection, a significant milestone in predicting how well it will work in humans.

A worldwide initiative to develop a vaccine for the virus that causes fever, rash, joint pain and other ailments has generated more than 30 candidates since outbreaks in 2015 and 2016 in Brazil.

The virus is found mostly in Africa, the Caribbean, parts of Asia, Central and South America and Mexico, as well as Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and the Solomon Islands. There were no mosquito-borne Zika transmissions reported this year in the continental United States or Hawaii.

Honolulu-based Hawaii Biotech is partnering with UH in developing the vaccine that requires two immunizations given three weeks apart and is a “potentially safer alternative” to other candidates currently in clinical trials.

“The intense search for a Zika remedy since early 2016 has required us to be agile, and we believe our vaccine candidate research demonstrates that such quick-turnaround results can be achieved in academic and scientific partnerships here in Hawaii,” said Dr. Axel Lehrer, assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious disease at the medical school, in a news release.

The proposed vaccine by local scientists was published in the journals Frontiers in Immunology and mSphere, an open access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

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