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Rare antibody discovered that targets Ebola and Marburg viruses

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Posted February 27, 2015

Ebola and Marburg viruses are spreading fear and death for quite some time now. Marburg virus is up to 90 percent lethal, and is considered to be closely related to Ebola virus and therefore doctors are desperate for tools to fight it. Now scientists at The Scripps Research Institute managed to show how rare antibody targets both Ebola and Marburg viruses, this provides hope for new treatment.

Team of scientists is the first to capture images of an antibody that binds to both Marburg virus (top) and Ebola virus. Image courtesy of the Ollmann Saphire lab.

Team of scientists is the first to capture images of an antibody that binds to both Marburg virus (top) and Ebola virus. Image courtesy of the Ollmann Saphire lab.

Scientists have captured the first images showing how immune molecules bind to a site on the surface of Marburg virus. It is believed to be extremely helpful for targeting the virus’s weak spots with future treatments. Furthermore, the team of scientists is the first to describe an antibody that binds to both Marburg and Ebola viruses, which means that there is a way to develop new antibody treatments to fight an entire family of viruses.

Newly found antibodies could be directly used against Marburg virus or, with some more engineering, against Ebola virus as well. Marburg virus is less known to general public, but it can cause massive haemorrhaging and organ failure and back in 2005 it killed 329 people, mostly children and health-care workers, in Angola. It is spread to humans by bats and is believed to be as dangerous as Ebola in densely populated areas. But now scientists believe to have found a weak spot of the Marburg virus.

The researchers were studying blood of a Marburg survivor to find how antibodies work. Scientists figured out a way how to grow crystals on the antibody attached to its viral target. These crystals then were exposed to X-ray diffraction and revealed a needed image. The antibody attaches to Marburg virus, blocking the virus’s ability to bind to a receptor and get its genetic material into human cells. Now scientists have to find a way to use these discoveries as a therapeutic.

Ebola and Marburg viruses enter the cell the same way, therefore there is hope that antibodies can work in treating both diseases. But antibodies are found only in Marburg survivor’s blood, indicating that viruses have differences that need to be addressed before creating the treatment. Scientists found out that the flexible, carbohydrate-rich coating on the surface proteins of both viruses is different; therefore antibodies would have to be engineered to be applicable for Ebola treatment.

It is hard to overestimate significance of this work even if it is still in its starting phases. Scientists are trying to achieve progress in treating not only these two deadly viruses, but also are preparing to combat related viruses, such as Sudan virus and Bundibugyo virus. They share receptors used to enter the cell and could be treated relatively similar way. This provides hope that world is going to be better prepared for future outbreaks if they ever happen.

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