Ebola is a master of disguise

Posted on Thursday, February 11, 2021

It was once thought that Ebola and related filoviruses were more or less contained to Central Africa. Researchers now understand that this viral family—causing hemorrhagic fevers with up to 90% case fatality rates—has been widespread around the world for millions of years.

Our defenses against it are more embryonic, and though we have a vaccine against one species of Ebola and some therapeutic antibodies on the horizon, both have production or distribution issues. What doctors have been hoping for is a regular drug that can treat Ebola as soon as it rears its terrifying head. A study published today in the journal PLOS Pathogens, identifies a pathway that all filoviruses use to gain entry into our cells—and shows how they can be stopped in their tracks by at least one FDA-approved drug.

Ebola is so pernicious because it pulls a fast one on the body, disguising itself as a dying cell.

“It’s cloaking itself in a lipid that is normally not exposed at the surface of a cell. It’s only exposed when the cell is undergoing apoptosis,” says Dr. Marceline Côté, an associate professor in the department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Virology and Antiviral Therapeutics and the primary investigator on this study. Dr. Côté is a leading global expert on how viruses get into us, an understanding that is key to any effort to keep them out.

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