Antibodies injected into infected monkeys can quell the severe neurological and respiratory symptoms caused by a Hendra virus, which genetically resembles the Nipah virus, the villain in the recent movie Contagion. The findings suggest a potential avenue for treatment, according to authors of the report published in Science Translational Medicine today (October 19).
Both the Hendra and Nipah viruses are considered emerging threats by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention because of the severe and often fatal illness they give rise to in humans. Both originated in bats, but have moved into horses and pigs as well as humans, where they cause brain inflammation and acute respiratory syndrome.
In the new study, the researchers showed that administering a designed anti-Hendra antibody as late as three days after infection can reduce the levels of virus in the blood of African green monkeys, and protected the animals from the disease. Untreated animals died in about a week. The results also suggested that just the reduction of the virus in the blood, rather than its complete elimination, could treat the disease.
Despite the encouraging finding, however, there is the practical concern that such infections are currently quire rare, Benhur Lee from the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote in an accompanying opinion article in Science Translational Medicine, making it unlikely that companies will be jumping to develop an antibody-based therapy for this disease. Those companies could be quick to change their minds, however, should a Contagion-like scenario become a reality.