News / Health

Female Hormone Estrogen Blocks Ebola Virus Infection

Jessica Berman
Researchers have discovered that drugs containing female estrogen block infection with the Ebola virus, a deadly disease for which there is no cure.  Scientists stumbled upon estrogen as a potential weapon against Ebola while looking to find new uses for old drugs.

Ebola hemorrhagic virus is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, the continent where the disease is endemic.  The infection, discovered in 1976, is extremely deadly, with a mortality rate of up to 90 percent.  And amid concerns that the highly lethal virus could be weaponized by bioterrorists, scientists have been looking for ways to prevent infection with Ebola.

Lisa Johansen, director of research programs at Zalicus, a biotechnology company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says she and researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland and at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville screened 2,000 existing drugs, looking for chemical compounds that were effective against Ebola.

Investigators discovered that a number of human-made drugs, including selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMS, blocked Ebola’s entry into cells in lab cultures and in mice.

But it wasn’t the estrogen drugs’ hormonal activity that thwarted the Ebola virus, preventing infection.  

Rather, Johansen says it was the compound’s chemical structure, and the structure of a number of other drugs, that hindered the microorganism, something that surprised researchers.    

“I think that’s one of the things that’s exciting…When we looked at our inhibitors, we found that a lot of them are entry inhibitors.  And a lot of them have the structure even though the mechanism is for something completely unrelated,” Johansen said.

SERMS are so-called designer drugs designed to act like estrogen without negative side effects.  For example, Tamoxifen is an older SERM used to treat breast cancer and the newer Reloxifen is approved for the prevention and treatment of the bone-weakening condition osteoporosis.  But they have potentially serious side effects such as an increased risk of other types of cancer.

Johansen envisions using SERMS and other repurposed compounds in a number of situations to prevent infection and death.

“I think they could be used both by a civilian population where outbreaks are as well as potentially by the military if they were in an area where there was an outbreak and they went in to intercede, or if somebody used them for bio-warfare,” Johansen said.

An article on using estrogen drugs and other compounds to prevent Ebola virus infection is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid