London, Dec 30, 2017: Raising hope for an effective drug to treat people with Ebola virus, researchers have found that an enzyme could help prevent the deadly virus from spreading.
The enzyme takes away the virus’ ability to copy itself and thus produce more virus particles and more infection, said the study published in the journal Molecular Cell.
‘When the Ebola virus enters the human cell, its only purpose is to copy itself, fast. First it must copy all its proteins, then its genetic material,” said Jakob Nilsson, Professor at University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
“But by inhibiting a specific enzyme we rob the Ebola virus of its ability to copy itself. And that may potentially prevent an Ebola infection from spreading,” Nilsson said.
There is currently no available treatment for Ebola virus infection.
However, the researchers behind the new study found what is called a new host factor for Ebola virus.
It can be described as a small part of the host’s — for example the human body’s — own cells, which the Ebola virus uses to copy itself and produce more infection.
The virus uses the host factor enzyme PP2A-B56 to start producing proteins.
So when PP2A-B56 is switched off, the virus’ ability to copy itself and produce more infection is stopped.
“When we inhibit the PP2A-B56 enzyme, we remove the first link in a long process, which ends with Ebola spreading. And we can tell that it works,” Nilsson said.
“The Ebola infection in cell cultures where we have inhibited the PP2A-B56 enzyme is 10 times smaller after 24 hours compared to infections where we have not inhibited this enzyme,” Nilsson added.
But because the researchers have so far focused on cell cultures, there is still work to be done before their results can be used to treat people infected with Ebola.
Initially the researchers hope to be able to test it on animals and, in the long term, develop a drug that inhibits the relevant enzyme. (IANS)
At a research facility in Gabon, one isolated building stands behind an electrified fence, under round-the-clock scrutiny by video cameras. The locked-down P4 lab is built to handle the world’s most dangerous viruses, including Ebola.
“Only four people, three researchers and a technician, are authorized to go inside the P4,” said virologist Illich Mombo, who is in charge of the lab, one of only two in all of Africa that is authorized to handle deadly Ebola, Marburg and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever viruses. The other is in Johannesburg.
The P4 was put up 800 metres (half a mile) distant from older buildings of the Franceville International Centre for Medical Research (CIRMF), in large grounds on the outskirts of Franceville, the chief city in the southeastern Haut-Ogooue province.
Filming the ultra-high-security lab or even taking photos is banned and the handful of people allowed inside have security badges. Backup power plants ensure an uninterruptable electricity supply. “Even the air that we breathe is filtered,” Mombo explains.
When he goes into the P4 lab to work on a sample of suspect virus such as Ebola — which has claimed 28 lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during an outbreak in the past six weeks — Mombo wears a head-to-foot biohazard suit.
The special clothing is destroyed as soon as he has finished. Draconian measures are in force to prevent any risk of contamination, with potentially disastrous effects.
‘Teams on alert’
Once a suspect virus has been “inactivated” — a technique that stops the sample from being contagious — it is carefully taken from the P4 unit to other CIRMF laboratories in the compound, where it is analysed.
Specialized teams will scrutinize it, looking to confirm its strain of Ebola and hunting for clues such as the virus’s ancestry and evolution, which are vital for tracking the spread of the disease.
CIRMF director Jean-Sylvain Koumba, a colonel in the Gabonese army and a military doctor, said lab teams had been “placed on alert” to handle Ebola samples sent on by the National Institute of Biomedical Resarch in the DRC capital Kinshasa.
The nature of the sample can be determined with rare precision, for the facility has state-of-the-art equipment matched in few other places worldwide.
“On average, it takes 24 to 48 hours between the time when a sample arrives and when we get the results,” Mombo said.
Founded in 1979 by Gabon’s late president Omar Bongo Ondimba to study national fertility rates, the CIRMF moved on to AIDS, malaria, cancer, viral diseases and the neglected tropical maladies that affect a billion people around the world, according to the WHO.
The center is financed by the Gabonese state, whose main wealth is derived from oil exports, and gets help from France.
In all, 150 people work for the CIRMF and live on the huge premises. Its reputation draws scientists, students and apprentices from Asia, Europe and the United States, as well as Africa.
“[The] CIRMF is uniquely suited to study infectious diseases of the Congolese tropical rain forest, the second world’s largest rain forest,” two French scientists, Eric Leroy and Jean-Paul Gonzalez, wrote in the specialist journal Viruses in 2012.
“[It] is dedicated to conduct medical research of the highest standard … with unrivaled infrastructure, multiple sites and multidisciplinary teams.”
The facility also conducts investigations into how lethal tropical pathogens are able to leap the species barrier, said Gael Darren Maganga, who helps run the unit studying the emergence of viral diseases.
“A passive watch consists of taking a sample from a dead animal after a request, while the active watch is when we go out ourselves to do fieldwork and take samples,” he said.
A major center of interest is the bat, seen as a potential “reservoir” — a natural haven — for the Ebola virus, said Maganga. Staff regularly go out all over Gabon to take samples of saliva, fecal matter and blood.
The consumption of monkey flesh and other bush meat is common practice in central Africa.
“It’s still a hypothesis, but the transmission to human beings could be by direct contact, for instance by getting scratches [from a bat] in caves, or by handling apes which have been infected by bat saliva,” he said. (VOA)