Why Is the Zika Virus Leaving Some Patients Paralyzed?

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Although concerns that the Zika virus will cause serious birth defects have grabbed most of the headlines, The Lancet recently reported evidence that an encounter with the virus can leave some people temporarily paralyzed. In March 2016, the journal published the first systematic study of a possible link between the virus and . According to Sciencemagazine, the data add support to the theory that a recent increase in cases of sudden paralysis across Latin America is due to the spreading Zika outbreak.

As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), GBS symptoms include weakness of the arms and legs that is usually the same on both sides of the body. In some cases, the muscles of the face that control eye movement or swallowing may also become weak. In the most serious cases, this muscle weakness can affect breathing. Although most people fully recover from GBS, some people have permanent damage, according to the CDC.

According to Science, a clearer understanding of the precise connection between Zika and GBS should emerge from ongoing studies during the current Zika outbreak. Researchers are also trying to understand if certain genes or other factors might make some Zika patients more likely to develop GBS.

“Long-term neurological problems in some patients who get GBS highlight the need for improved treatment options,” says Gur Roshwalb, MD, CEO of Akari Therapeutics. “New approaches are currently being tested with positive results to date in animal studies.”

In its quest for better GBS treatment, Akari is testing a small-molecule protein named Coversin. Derived from a protein in the saliva of the Ornithodoros moubata tick, Coversin is designed to be given by subcutaneous injection, making self-administration possible if approved for commercialization. Akari is currently studying Coversin in GBS and other rare diseases; the company plans to initiate a Phase II study in GBS patients in early 2017.

Coversin is designed to inhibit the action of C5 and LTB4, which play key roles in a component of the immune system called the complement system and in the inflammatory system. Ordinarily, the complement system helps disable and clear out foreign invaders and unwanted cells, but when C5’s variants are produced in unregulated numbers, the result can trigger life-threatening inflammatory and autoimmune conditions such as GBS. Further, LTB4, produced in inflammatory reactions, attracts white blood cells (neutrophils) to the area of inflammation, increasing the inflammatory reaction. Coversin has shown promise as a combination C5 and LTB4 inhibitor.

“We believe Coversin has the potential to give doctors who are encountering GBS patients an added tool for treatment,” adds Roshwalb. “We are looking forward to additional studies that will give us a clearer picture of its capabilities in this and other indications.”

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