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Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 21:19 GMT


Life-saving hope from killer virus

The last Ebola outbreak killed 245 people

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found how to keep the Ebola virus from entering the blood vessels where it causes massive and often fatal bleeding.

The research has also revealed the very effective mechanism which the Ebola virus uses to insert its genes into the cells it infects.

[ image: Electron micrograph of Ebola Zaire virus]
Electron micrograph of Ebola Zaire virus
The team, led by Gary Nabel and Zhi-yong Yang now hopes to borrow this mechanism from the virus, and to use it to insert protective genes into the walls of the coronary arteries of people affected by heart disease.

If they succeed, then the Ebola virus could eventually save far more lives than the numbers it has killed.

They said in the journal Science that glycoproteins- a protein attached to a carbohydrate - were the key to their discovery.

Other scientists had noticed glycoproteins were involved in Ebola infection but were not sure what exactly they did.

It now appears they bind to neutrophils, a kind of white blood cell that would normally defend against viruses like Ebola.

If an efficient way could be found to stop the glycoproteins, perhaps this could help treat Ebola infections, they said.

Ebola, one of the most virulent viral diseases known, kills between 50 and 90% of its victims depending on the strain, usually within days.

It is spread by direct contact with body fluids such as blood, vomit and diarrhoea.

Some 245 people died in 1995 in an epidemic around Kikwit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and there have also been cases in Sudan, Gabon and the Ivory Coast.

Altogether about 1,000 cases have been reported since the virus was first found in Sudan in 1976.

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Internet Links

Science magazine, where the research was published

Howard Hughes Medical Institute - where researchers are based

Ebola information from the Center for Disease Control

National Center for Infectious Diseases - helped the researchers

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