News / Health

Discovery Could Lead to New Drugs to Block Deadly Viruses

A laboratory specialist examines specimens of the Ebola virus at the Uganda virus research centre in Entebbe, 40km (25 miles) south from capital Kampala May 17, 2011.
A laboratory specialist examines specimens of the Ebola virus at the Uganda virus research centre in Entebbe, 40km (25 miles) south from capital Kampala May 17, 2011.
Jessica Berman
U.S. researchers have discovered a class of potent chemical compounds that could stop a host of viruses in their tracks, including the deadly Marburg and Ebola viruses and pathogens that cause rabies, mumps and measles. Drugs made from the compounds would stop infection by interfering with a virus’ ability to reproduce itself inside human cells.

Viruses are strange things.  Though there is some scientific question about whether viruses are alive or not, they do have a basic genetic structure that allows them to be biologically active.  But they don't have the built-in reproductive capacity of bacteria -- tiny, living organisms which, once they have infected a human host, can make copies of themselves using their own DNA. 

John Connor, a virologist at Boston University in Massachusetts, explains that in order for viruses to reproduce and become a disease threat, they must first hijack the genetic machinery of a living cell:


“They’re parasites," said Connor. "They get inside our cells and use a lot of our machinery in order to make extra copies of themselves.  And so that poses a really delicate question of how do you destroy the virus without getting yourself.”

Connor and his colleagues screened thousands of chemical compounds, looking for ones that showed strong antiviral activity.  

They identified several small molecules that interfere with the replication of a class of pathogens known as NNS viruses, which cause the deadly Marburg and Ebola infections, as well as measles and mumps.

Once they have invaded a host cell, NNS viruses use their own genetic molecule -- known as RNA -- to hijack the host cell's DNA and force it to make copies of the virus.

The most effective compounds discovered by the Boston researchers shut down that replication process -- at least in cell-culture experiments -- by limiting the viruses' RNA production.

The compounds do not thwart all viruses -- they have no effect, for example, on HIV, the virus that causes AIDS -- because of differences in the way viral pathogens enter and commandeer cells.

Just as antibiotics are effective against many bacterial illnesses, Connor says he hopes this discovery leads to the development of broad-spectrum antiviral drugs to treat a variety of currently incurable viral infections.

“Basically, one of the things my lab is interested in is trying to find 'monkey wrenches' [disruptive agents] to throw into viral replication machinery so it doesn’t work anymore," said Connor. "And the idea there is, if we find good ways of keeping viruses from doing their basic replication, we can ideally develop a new drug to treat these viruses.”

An article by Boston University’s John Connor and colleagues on the discovery of compounds to combat Ebola, Marburg and other viral infections is published in the journal Chemistry and Biology.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid