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Ebola vaccine could be a reality? Research moves a step forward

Is it finally possible for scientists to find a cure for Ebola? New research helped researchers take a huge step forward in discovering the spreading mechanism of this highly infectious virus. Although a vaccine is still not ready, a significant milestone has been reached in the fight against this dangerous pathogen.

Scientists from the research team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, found a new system that allows real-time observation of the Ebola virus as it infects human cells through microscope lenses. The New York team, led by the immunologist and microbiologist Dr. Kartik Chandran and postdoctoral researcher Jennifer Spence, published their discovery in mBio, the online journal of American Society for Microbiology. For the first time, Ebola-like virus particles can be watched as they enter the host cells thanks to a specific fluorescent dye that colors their membrane.

In order to enter into its host, human cells are “convinced” by the virus into engulfing it and then bring it to a delicate cellular organ called “endosome.” This cellular compartment is a sort of “Recycling plant” that cells use to convert any old biologic material into newer structures. Protected by a special envelope, the Ebola virus subverts normal endosomal processes and exploits them to replicate itself. The dyed membrane engineered by Dr. Chandran’s team lit up itself as soon as the virus enters inside the cell, allowing the researchers to observe the whole infection process through a microscope. Thanks to this new discovery, scientists watched as the ZMappTM antibodies that helped to restrain the Ebola outbreak bound themselves to the viral proteins. The research team is also rebuilding the entire Ebola infection mechanism to identify its most vulnerable steps, paving the road for a future vaccine that targets key viral proteins.

The recent Ebola outbreak that hit the African continent from 2014 to 2015 seems to have reached a halt since the original chains of transmission have been contained in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. However, the risk of a new outbreak striking the vastly underdeveloped African health care system is still high. As explained by Dr. Bruce Aylward, Special Representative of the Director-General for the Ebola Response, WHO: “The coming months will be absolutely critical.” As he said in a recent World Health Organization press release, “This is the period when the countries need to be sure that they are fully prepared to prevent, detect and respond to any new cases.”

During the last two years, the Ebola outbreak killed more than 11,000 victims, striking fear into people’s hearts all over the world. A vast epidemic that could bring our society to its knees is, in fact, one of the most feared forms of modern paranoia. Dozens of movies and TV series such as The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later keep depicting a disease-ridden world where dozens of infected human beings hunt the few survivors, who struggle for food and water over the remains of a broken world. Although Ebola never represented a serious threat to the better prepared and equipped western countries, a preventive treatment to restrain a future outbreak and save thousands of lives is nonetheless of the utmost importance.

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