There’s no rest for the weary, and that includes researchers looking for a definitive cure and treatment plan for Ebola patients. Even though Guinea was declared free of the hemorrhagic disease just before ringing in the new year, the threat of the virus evolving to be more dangerous and evasive than before has kept scientists on the hunt for a final answer.
Ebola is caused by an RNA virus whose genome encodes proteins such as nucleoprotein, glycoprotein, and L protein that are all sealed in a viral envelope (Kenyon College
). Although there currently are vaccines that target these vital structural proteins to prevent Ebola virus from infecting host cells, a few different strains of the deadly disease exist that vary enough in amino acid and nucleotide sequencing to make a general vaccine impossible to create.
To make matters worse, the Ebola virus also contains to potential to evolve, and this is what scientists from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute wanted to investigate in a new Journal of Virology
"Any change in a genome can be neutral, negative, or positive to a virus," Anthony Griffiths, PhD, explained. "Interestingly, viruses appear to have evolved to have an optimal mutation rate. Increasing the mutation rate could produce a negative effect on the virus and serve as a valuable therapeutic tool."
Griffiths explained that they will not have to prevent Ebola from mutating all together, just stimulate enough stress to increase the mutation rate so viral cells are weakened and inviable.
"We found that Ebola virus had very limited ability to tolerate spontaneous changes in the genome,” he said.
They tested a drug for chronic hepatitis C, called ribavirin, to see if Ebola cells faltered like they predicted they would after meddling with the viral mutation rate. Ribavirin is a nucleoside inhibitor that prevents viruses from synthesizing RNA and viral mRNA capping (Merck
). Although the team saw successful clinical trials in mice and monkey subjects, further studies are required to make ribavirin a substantial candidate for treating Ebola.
Source: Texas Biomedical Research Institute