Ebola curable in the future?

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US researchers achieve breakthrough in Ebola research

The deadly Ebola virus could soon lose its horror. According to the researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), who reported first successes in finding drugs for Ebola and the almost equally deadly Marburg virus in August last year, scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and Harvard Medical School in Boston now have further successes in the fight against Ebola.

The Ebola fever caused by the Ebola virus is one of the deadliest known diseases worldwide and, depending on the Ebola strain, ends in around 90 percent of infected people and 100 percent of infected monkeys. After about 10 days of incubation, infected people become lethargic, suffer from nausea and vomiting, develop a high fever and begin to bleed from all pores in the later course of the disease. Typical symptoms are internal bleeding, bleeding into the tissue, blood in the stool and urine, as well as bleeding from the skin and mucous membranes. Often, those affected also suffer from liver and kidney dysfunction with edema. In the final stages, the internal organs of Ebola patients literally dissolve and the associated bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, spleen and lungs subsequently lead to the death of the patients. Since the body fluid escaping from all pores of the affected person is highly contagious, Ebola quickly spreads like an epidemic. The Ebola virus is relatively widespread, especially in Africa, and there is no cure to this day.

Now, however, two research teams report in the journal "Nature" that they have demonstrated a defense mechanism against the Ebola virus for the first time. The scientists led by Kartik Chandran from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have shown that an endogenous protein helps the virus to penetrate human cells. The “Niemann-Pick C1” (NPC1) molecule, which is used for the transport of cholesterol, is normally responsible for the cholesterol being able to be transported into the interior of the cell and processed there, the researchers at Albert Einstein College report. However, the Ebola virus also used this route to get into the cells. Study author Kartik Chandran explained that cells that “do not produce this protein cannot be infected by the Ebola virus”. “Blocking the protein with a special agent could thus provide efficient protection against the Ebola virus. Experiments on cell cultures and mice have shown that blocking the protein provides 99 percent immunity to the Ebola virus, the scientists explained.

However, in the long term, the lack of the protein also results in a serious hereditary disease, so that only a short-term blockage in the context of an acute outbreak can be considered. However, since the Ebola epidemics mostly only lasted for a relatively short period of time, long-term use of the corresponding medication would not be necessary, the scientists explained. The disorders in cholesterol transport into the cells are "tolerable" in view of the health risks of the deadly infectious disease, said Kartik Chandran and colleagues.

In the second study presented, scientists led by James Cunningham from Harvard Medical School in Boston discovered with a search robot an active ingredient that blocks the protein NPC1, which is so important for the Ebola virus. The robot has evaluated thousands of active ingredients in search of a possible cure for Ebola. In the end, the scientists discovered an active ingredient that provides particularly efficient protection against Ebola and the related Marburg virus. As study author Cunningham reports, “such small molecules that attack NPC1 and thereby inhibit Ebola infection have the potential to develop antiviral agents”, which enable Ebola fever to be cured. When the active ingredient was used, the cells were reliably protected against infection with the virus, according to the researchers. The blockade of NPC1 had a very selective effect against the Ebola virus and the related Marburg virus, while other viruses and pathogens were not touched, the US scientists explained.

Research for a cure for Ebola is also receiving massive support from the United States Department of Defense due to concerns about possible bio-terrorist attacks. Last year, the United States Department of Defense had negotiated a contract with AVI BioPharma researchers to continue collaborating on Ebola research and pledged more than $ 291 million to the company for future research. A sum that, in view of the 1,200 Ebola deaths so far since the discovery of the infectious disease in 1976, appears to be significantly exaggerated. Especially since the fear of bio-terrorism is the reason for the research effort. For example, criticism accuses the US Department of Defense that investing a comparable amount in development aid and support measures for "anti-America" ​​countries would do much more in the fight against the dangers of bio-terrorism than using it to research a cure for Ebola. (fp)

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Image: Sigrid Roßmann / pixelio.de

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