MADISON - The deadly Ebola virus, an emerging public health concern in Africa and a potential biological weapon, ranks among the most feared of exotic pathogens.
Due to its virulent nature, and because no vaccines or treatments are available, scientists studying the agent have had to work under the most stringent biocontainment protocols, limiting research to a few highly specialized labs and hampering the ability of scientists to develop countermeasures.
Now, however, a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has figured out a way to genetically disarm the virus, effectively confining it to a set of specialized cells and making the agent safe to study under conditions far less stringent than those currently imposed.
"We wanted to make biologically contained Ebola virus," explains Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor of pathobiological sciences in the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and the senior author of a paper describing the system for containing the virus published today (Jan. 21, 2008) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "This is a great system."
The Ebola virus first emerged in 1976 with outbreaks in Sudan and Zaire. There are several strains of the virus, which causes hemorrhagic fever and during outbreaks kills anywhere from 50-90 percent of its human victims.
At present, research on live Ebola virus is confined to the very highest level of biosafety, known as Biosafety Level 4 (BSL 4). Because such laboratories are rare, small and very expensive, basic research that is the basis for any potential drugs or vaccines to thwart the virus has been limited to perhaps half a dozen labs worldwide. The system devised by Kawaoka and his colleagues could provide a way to greatly expand studies of the pathogen and speed the development of countermeasures.
Taming Ebola virus, according to the new study, depends on a single gene known as VP30. Like most viruses, Ebo
|Contact: Yoshihiro Kawaoka|
University of Wisconsin-Madison