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Zika is so devastating that the damage it does has been thought to be irreversible. But the researchers said some of the compounds that the group tested not only allowed cells to live longer in the face of infection — but also in some cases fully recover from them.

The news, reported in Nature Medicine on Monday, is exciting but only a very preliminary step toward a treatment. The researchers will have to test the drugs in animal models to see if they can replicate the results, and if these tests are successful, they will have to start the long process of trying to test the drugs’ effectiveness in humans.

[U.S. warning: Zika could spread to Gulf States, persist for one to two years]

Co-author Hongjun Song, director of the stem cell program at Johns Hopkins, said that the drugs “are very effective against Zika in the dish, but we don’t know if they can work in humans in the same way.”

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