New research from Washington University provides the first evidence of a human antibody capable of protecting fetuses from the Zika virus.
In pregnant women, the virus can cause severe birth defects, most notably microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads.
According to a paper published this week in the journal Nature, scientists tested multiple human antibodies on infected pregnant mice. One antibody, ZIKV-117, was able to defend the mice fetuses from all existing strains of the Zika virus.
Wash U virologist Michael Diamond, a co-author of the study, said the finding makes significant progress in combating the virus.
"We potentially have a treatment, although the caveat of course is that we treated mice," Diamond said," and that's not what we need to treat. We need to treat humans."
Diamond said it could be about a year before testing the antibody in humans can begin.
"We have one more hurdle, which is to show that it works in non-human primates, or monkeys, and if that's done, then we can go into clinical trials," he said.
While the success of the antibody remains to be seen in humans, Diamond thinks that the antibody could be taken in small doses by pregnant women as a preventative measure when traveling in areas where the virus is present.
The study also affirms that a vaccine that evokes the immune system to produce protective antibodies, such as ZIKV-117, could be effective against the virus.
Saint Louis University researchers announced plans last month to recruit volunteers for a vaccine trial. That vaccine has been tested successfully in animals.
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