Scientists discover ‘key’ Ebola virus needs to Infect Cells

Washington, May 27 (IANS/EFE): Scientists have found a protein that acts like a “key” allowing the Ebola virus to infect cells, according to an article published in the journal mBio.

A study by a group of scientists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York and the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), claims to identify the “Achilles Heel” of the Ebola virus, according to the article published on Tuesday.

The researchers suggest the virus needs to lock on to a Niemann-Pick C1 (NPC1) protein to be able to replicate its genetic information within the cell and infect it.

When the virus enters a healthy cell, it is surrounded by a part of the cell membrane, or lysosomes, that digest foreign bodies with enzymes.

If these lysosomes do not contain the NPC1 protein, the virus cannot reproduce.

Scientists discovered this mechanism by testing the effect of the virus on mice with the NPC1 gene and others without.

Mice without the gene showed complete immunity to the Ebola virus, a finding that could reveal a cure for the deadly virus.

However, the path to a cure is far from simple.

NPC1 protein is also key to transporting cholesterol within the cell and people lacking it develop a fatal neuro-degenerative disorder called Niemann-Pick disease.

Scientists are now assessing the possibility of developing an antidote to Ebola by temporarily blocking the NPC1 receptors to check the spread of the virus.

“We think patients would be able to tolerate the treatment, which would be needed for only a short time,” said Andrew S. Herbert, research scientist in the Viral Immunology Branch at USAMRIID.

Since 2014, an Ebola outbreak in several countries of West Africa has infected close to 27,000 people and has claimed more than 11,000 lives, according to the World Health Organisation.

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