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Resisting Ebola: It's All About Your Genes

Oct 31, 2014 02:09 PM EDT
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Experts have decoded the genetic factors that contribute to an Ebola patient's susceptibility to the virus, potentially helping to determine who faces the greatest risk of deadly symptoms.
(Photo : Flickr: Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. )

The Ebola pandemic that is sweeping across West African populations is considered very deadly, killing more patients than its traditional fatality rate of just under 50 percent. And while this makes it seem that the disease has grown more dangerous, past World Health Organization (WHO) investigations have revealed that the disease is no more deadly or contagious than it has ever been.

Nature World News previously reported how a team of international researchers led by the Institute of Tropical Medicine is suggesting that, in the wake of such an intense pandemic, it is very likely that there are hundreds of unreported cases of survivors who rode out Ebola with their own resistances. Another team of experts from the University of Texas, Austin, suggested that there is even the likelihood that some people are naturally immune.

Now, a team of researchers from laboratories at the University of Washington, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are saying that they are already decoding what kind of genetic information could help a person resist and survive an Ebola infection.

Experts at the highly contained virology labs exposed mice - all from the same gene pool - to a controlled strain of Ebola from the 2014 West African outbreaks.

The researchers saw that soon after infection, all of the mice lost weight, implying that their immune systems were ramping up to battle the virus. Amazingly, 19 percent of the mice seemed utterly unfazed by the virus, which passed through them like a brief bug. They also fully regained their lost weight within two weeks.

Seventy percent of the mice reacted to the virus as expected, boasting a higher than 50 percent mortality rate. However, the remaining 11 percent boasted partial resistance, dying less than 50 percent of the time.

Interestingly, the researchers found a very simple pattern of genetic factors that led to the mice's varied susceptibility. They detailed these findings in the esteemed journal Science.

"We hope that medical researchers will be able to rapidly apply these findings to candidate therapeutics and vaccines," virologist Michael Katze said in a statement.

He added that identifying these specific genetic factors will also help health professionals identify the mortality risk of each Ebola patient - a helpful triage tool in an ongoing pandemic.

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