News / Science & Technology

    Critical Protein Discovery Could Help Prevent Lethal Ebola Virus

    Ebola virus
    Ebola virus
    Jessica Berman

    An international team of scientists has discovered a biochemical route used by the deadly Ebola virus to infect human cells.   Scientists say the discovery points the way to new drugs that could prevent or treat one of the world’s most lethal viral diseases. 

    The Ebola hemorrhagic virus, which got its name from the central African river near where the disease first emerged in 1976, kills an estimated 90 percent of the people and non-human primates it infects.  

    The disease causes very high fever, both internal and external bleeding, and has led to thousands of deaths in many sub-Saharan African countries, including Gabon, Sudan, the Ivory Coast and Uganda, since the first reported outbreak 35 years ago.

    Although considered a rare disease, Ebola causes panic whenever there is an outbreak, in part because little is known about where the illness comes from or how it spreads.

    Experts believe infected bats may be one source of these sporadic occurrences of Ebola, and the disease is then spread from person to person through tainted body fluids or blood.

    To better understand the biology of Ebola, a team of researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, the Whitehead Institute at MIT and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases studied how the virus actually infects cells.

    Kartik Chandran, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein, is a senior author of the study.

    “The critical step that we were studying is what we call viral entry," Chandran explained.  "And it’s basically the step that results in the virus getting into the cytoplasm where the [genetic] goodies are for making copies of itself.”

    Researchers looked at normal cell proteins that the Ebola virus might be hijacking, in effect, to get inside and infect mammalian cells.  Investigators focused on one protein in particular - called Neimann-Pick C1  or NPC1.

    Chandran says that in experiments with both human cells and in mice, the Ebola virus was unable to gain a toehold in cells that were missing the NPC1 protein.

    “You couldn’t infect the cells with Ebola.  And there are also mice that, like the human[s], don’t have the protein and develop Neimann-Pick disease," Chandran said.

    The Neimann-Pick protein, which is embedded naturally in cell membranes, helps transport cholesterol throughout cells.  People who are born with a rare genetic defect and don’t make the protein eventually die of Neimann-Pick disease, in which fatty substances called lipids collect and clog various internal organs.

    Chandran says the disease progresses over time. But to prevent or treat an Ebola infection, he thinks it might be possible to design a small molecule that interferes with production of the Neimann-Pick protein in cells temporarily -- too briefly to cause problems with elevated cholesterol.

    Chandran says such a compound would not have to totally block production of the NPC1 protein.

    “You know the [Ebola] virus, it’s like ‘shock and awe.’  It’s like over within a week," noted Chandran.   "I mean the virus grows very quickly and it kills off the very cells you need to mount your immune response.  If we could stop that from happening or slow it down enough, we might give the person a chance.”

    Chandran says scientists have developed a candidate drug that could be used to treat or prevent an Ebola outbreak.  He says another hemorrhagic virus called Marburg uses a similar mechanism to infect cells and should also respond to a drug that blocks the Neimann-Pick protein.

    Two articles by Chandran and colleagues on the biochemical keys involved in Ebola virus infections are published in the journal Nature.

    You May Like

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora