Ebola, HIV and other killer viruses could be treated using a gene found in monkeys, scientists say.
Lab studies by University of Utah academics found the gene retroCHMP3 can stop viruses from escaping human cells and infecting others.
Scientists have known for some time that the gene, found in squirrel monkeys and mice, plays an important role in ‘everyday cellular processes’.
But this is the first study to show it can actually block viruses — including HIV and Ebola — from spreading.
Scientists said the discovery could lead to the development of antivirals for humans against a range of lethal pathogens.
Lab studies by University of Utah academics found the gene retroCHMP3 can stop viruses from escaping human cells and infecting others
Studies will need to prove it is safe and well-tolerated in humans and helps to stop viral infections before it can be rolled out.
Humans can carry the CHMP3 gene, which plays a key role in cellular processes as part of the ESCRT pathway.
But the pathway was thought to be an ‘Achilles heel’, with viruses able to ‘exploit’ it and cause infection.
Scientists feared messing with the pathway because they didn’t think it was possible to do so ‘without interfering with other very important cellular functions’.
In an effort to get around the issue, academics coaxed human cells to produce the retroCHMP3 version of the gene — which is usually found in monkeys.
They then infected the same cells with HIV.
Results of the study — published in the journal Cell — revealed it stopped the virus in its track, and didn’t disrupt any crucial processes or cause cells to die.
Lead author Nels Elde said: ‘We thought the pathway was an Achilles heel that viruses like HIV and Ebola could always exploit as they bud off and infect new cells.
‘[But] retroCHMP3 flipped the script, making the viruses vulnerable. Moving forward, we hope to learn from this lesson and use it to counter viral diseases.’
He told MailOnline they hoped to one day make new treatments to help fight off viral infections.
He said: ‘Next we are generating modified mice that can produce retroCHMP3 to see if this helps curbs virus infections.
‘The idea is that a few cells might still get infected but the viruses can’t efficiently get out of these cells and the infection would be squelched.
‘If these pre-clinical studies prove successful, the next step would be to consider how this might translate in other animals of agricultural importance and ultimately in humans.’
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
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Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.
Source: Daily Mail | Health News