Ebola Resistance Lies in Genes

Ebola Resistance Lies in GenesEbola Resistance Lies in Genes

Scientists have unlocked the secret to Ebola resistance and survival in a groundbreaking research released Thursday in the journal Science.

Virologists Angela Rasmussen and Michael Katze of the University of Washington believe genes play a key role in determining whether a person is likely to die or survive from an Ebola infection.

Why some people appear completely resistant to the Ebola virus, why it does not kill all those infected and why all infected do not exhibit the symptoms are the same questions the new disease model developed in Katze’s laboratory in Hamilton, Montana proposes to answer.

 UN Tally

As of late Wednesday United Nations tally, 13,703 people have already contracted the Ebola virus; all but 27 of them come from the worst-hit West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

About 5,000 people have already died of the disease, among them only two-thirds developed hemorrhagic symptoms, according to The New York Times.

Roughly the same could be said of laboratory mice engineered to represent human genetic diversity.

In genetically engineered mice, Ebola symptoms ranged from weight loss and hemorrhagic fever, including swollen spleens, internal bleeding, bloodshot eyes, bleeding gums and red dots emerging on the skin as blood leaks out of the capillaries. At this point, hardly any lab mice and infected humans survive.

 Genes Identified

While the researchers have not identified the exact genetic reasons why there are variations in how the mice and human immune systems react to the infection, they have identified two genes that determine susceptibility or resistance to the disease.

Both are responsible for producing proteins that regulate how much fluid pass through the walls of the body’s blood vessels. These proteins appear to be less active in mice that have developed hemorrhagic fever.

Prof. Andrew Easton of the University of Warwick, who is not part of the research, told Reuters that the Washington University investigators showed how host genes could influence which cells can become infected and how fast the virus spreads in the body.

Rasmussen said the disease model could enable researchers to speed-up the development and testing of trial Ebola vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

The World Health Organization reports that two Ebola drugs are slated to be tested on a wide scale trial in West Africa by January. Scientists in several countries, including the United States and Canada, are scrambling to produce effective Ebola vaccines to halt the exponential spread of the current Ebola outbreak.

The new research may lead to the development of an Ebola vaccine targeting genes, which although may not clear the body of infection, would help give it a fighting chance, the researchers said.