News / Science & Technology

Critical Protein Discovery Could Help Prevent Lethal Ebola Virus

Ebola virus
Ebola virus
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid