National / Science & Health

Ebola symptoms may hinge on gene functions: U.S., Japanese researchers

Kyodo

Ebola’s symptoms may differ depending on whether certain genes in the victim are active or not, a U.S.-based research team said in a paper published in Science magazine on Thursday.

The findings from experiments on mice are likely to help understand why Ebola manifests itself differently from one case to another. They may also aid the treatment of critical patients, the researchers said.

Led by Michael Katze of the University of Washington, the research team includes Japanese scientist Atsushi Okumura and members of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The researchers focused on genes known as “Tie 1” and “Tek,” whose functions involve the restoration of veins and immunity. The genes therefore probably play a role in curbing bleeding symptoms.

The West Africa outbreak has revealed large differences in how bleeding develops from one victim to another. Genetic factors have been suspected as the reason, the researchers said.

“Our data suggest that genetic factors play a significant role in disease outcome,” Katze said in a press release.

“We hope that medical researchers will be able to rapidly apply these findings to candidate therapeutics and vaccines,” Katze said.

The team analyzed the functions of the two genes on organs of mice that were infected with the Ebola virus.

One group of mice exhibited symptoms such as reduced appetite but they survived. The two genes were active in this sample, the researchers said.

The other group of mice showed bleeding symptoms and died. In this group the genes were less active.

The research team will now launch a project aimed at developing medicine that kicks the genes into action when they fail to perform, the researchers said.

To date, scientists have conducted research on Ebola using test animals such as monkeys but mice are easier to deal with and researchers face fewer ethical hurdles.

The Katze-led team will try to identify the genes that would be linked to treatment of Ebola using several hundred groups of mice, the researchers said.