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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 16:32 GMT
Ebola discovery raises vaccine hope
Ebola ward
Ebola is a deadly disease
Scientists have discovered how the deadly ebola virus attacks human cells - paving the way for a possible vaccine.

The virus is one of the most deadly viruses known to man.

More than half of those who become infected bleed to death.

People are waiting with bated breath for a drug or vaccine

Dr Gary Nabel
It is also highly contagious. However, since it was first discovered in 1976 outbreaks have been confined to central Africa.

Until now the exact way that Ebola attacked the body was poorly understood.

But researchers from the US National Institutes of Health, have discovered that the virus targets tiny platforms of fat - called lipid rafts - which float on top of the outer membrane of human cells.

The virus uses the lipid raft as a gateway to the cells and a place to assemble new virus particles before launching them at other cells.

Other viruses

It is a similar method of attack to that employed by HIV, measles and flu viruses.

Dr Sina Bavari, of the US Army Medical Research Institute, said: "By understanding how Ebola and Marburg are entering into and budding from cells, it gives us an avenue to come up with new therapeutics that would alter these pathways."

The scientists made their breakthrough by using harmless copies of the virus which had the same shape, but no harmful internal contents.

They hope that it might eventually be possible to use the same de-activated form of the virus to develop a vaccine by fooling the immune system into believing it is under attack by ebola.

It might also be possible to treat Ebola infection by administering anti-cholesterol or anti-fungal drugs to break up the lipid platforms, and thus deny the virus the opportunity to spread itself.

Dr Gary Nabel, of the American Vaccine Research Centre, said: "People are waiting with bated breath for a drug or vaccine.

"These show that we're on the road that will get us there."

The research is published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

See also:

05 Aug 99 | Health
Ebola cure hope
20 Oct 00 | Medical notes
Ebola and other tropical viruses
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