The Ebola virus, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West African nations in its latest and worst outbreak, has a unique mechanism that nullifies the human body’s first response to any viral infection, according to a new study. The latest findings are expected to help scientists by providing a framework for developing new drugs to combat the virus.
One of the human body’s first responses to a viral infection is to make and release signaling proteins, called interferons, which strengthen the immune system, the researchers said, adding that the study explains, for the first time, how the virus’ production of a protein called “Ebola Viral Protein 24,” or “eVP24,” stops the interferon-based signals from strengthening the body’s immune system.
“Our study is the first to show how Ebola viral protein 24 defeats the signal sent by interferons, the key signaling molecules in the body’s early response to Ebola virus infection,” Christopher F. Basler of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the study’s co-author, said in a statement. “These newfound details of Ebola biology are already serving as the foundation of a new drug development effort, albeit in its earliest stages.”
The study, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, focuses on the part of the human body’s defense system that fights infection, a mix of proteins and cells that quickly recognize an invasion by a virus and prevent it from reproducing inside cells. To trigger an early and effective response to viral infection, interferons must pass on their signals to other cells.
But, according to the researchers, with the human body’s first response to a viral infection disabled, the Ebola virus can mass produce itself freely and eventually damages organs.
Although previous studies had found that the Ebola virus defeats the human immune response through eVP24, it was so far not known exactly how the deadly virus manages to do so.
The researchers believe that understanding how the Ebola virus targets the interferons could help the development of new drugs. According to the scientists, it may be possible to find an antibody or molecule that interferes with eVP24.
“We feel the urgency of the present situation, but still must do the careful research to ensure that any early drug candidates against the Ebola virus are proven to be safe, effective and ready for use in future outbreaks,” Basler said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has classified Kenya as a “high-risk” country for the spread of the Ebola virus, as the nation is a major transport hub for many flights from West Africa, BBC News reported.
According to WHO’s latest update, the number of people killed by Ebola in West Africa has increased to 1,069. Between Aug. 10 and Aug. 11, a total of 128 new cases of of the disease as well as 56 deaths were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.