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

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups More

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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs