LONDON – Scientists studying the lethal Ebola virus have found how it blocks and disables the body’s ability to battle infections, a discovery that should help the search for potential cures and vaccines.
A group of scientists in the United States found that Ebola carries a protein called VP24 that interferes with a molecule called interferon, which is vital to the immune response.
“One of the key reasons that Ebola virus is so deadly is because it disrupts the body’s immune response to the infection,” said Chris Basler of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, who worked on the study. “Figuring out how VP24 promotes this disruption will suggest new ways to defeat the virus.”
The team, lead by Gaya Amarasinghe from Washington University School of Medicine, found that VP24 works by stopping transcription factor STAT1 — which carries interferon’s antiviral message — from entering the nucleus of a cell and initiating an immune response.
“This study shows just how nefarious the Ebola virus can be,” said Ben Neuman, a virologist at Britain’s university of Reading who was not directly involved in this study. “Ebola virus carries a small tool that intercepts the cell’s distress signals, and when this happens, it disables some of the most useful machinery that our bodies have for fighting Ebola. That leaves the body with only crude defenses that are less effective at stopping the virus, and end up causing much of the damage that can eventually lead to death.”
There are no proven treatments or vaccines to prevent Ebola, although several biotech companies and research teams have potential drugs in development.