New study makes much needed breakthrough for fight against Ebola. Researchers believe cancer drug Toremifene, as well as ibuprofen, could be used to develop anti-Ebola treatments.
Ebola is a pressing global problem – recently ravaging populations in fatal epidemics across West Africa. After first exposure to the pathogen, infected individuals tend to develop a headache, sore throat, fever, joint and muscle pain, as well as intense muscle weakness. Stomach pain, diarrhoea and vomiting closely follow the early symptoms, and soon liver and kidney function fails. Experiencing intense suffering, infected patients can then bleed internally – as well as from the eyes, ears, nose and/or mouth. Ebola mortality rates are high, with death occurring in 50-90% of all cases. Currently there are no approved cures or vaccinations for the virus. Thankfully, researchers have now made a breakthrough discovery in the fight against further outbreaks of the disease.
Professor Dave Stuart, from Oxford University, has led the first team to create high-resolution images of Ebola’s structure by using Diamond Light Source, the UK’s synchrotron. This cutting edge technology works by speeding up electrons to almost the speed of light. These supercharged electrons emit a light ’10 billion times brighter than the sun’, which allowed the scientist to analyse the minute structure of the Ebola virus with a machine ‘10,000 time more powerful than a traditional microscope’.
When Ebola infects a victim, the virus clings to the host’s cells by using a glycoprotein found in Ebola’s membrane. Figuring out how to disrupt this unwanted attachment could prevent the disease from getting a foot-hold, making Ebola fall at the first hurdle when launching attacks on exposed subjects. Within the study, the researchers discovered that Toremifene, a drug used for treating advanced breast cancer, binds to the surface glycoprotein. This causes the glycoprotein to be prematurely activated, which as a result stops the virus from being able to infect the host cells. Common headache cure, Ibuprofen, showed similar results – although was less effective than the chemotherapy drug. The study is a significant discovery for preventing the spread of a disease that has recently claimed the lives of over 11,000 people in West Africa.
Whilst the results are promising, the scientists emphasise the need for further research. Toremifene and ibuprofen, as Ebola-bashing drugs, are only weakly effective; and would be toxic to patients at the required dose to be therapeutically potent. Professor Stuart told the BBC that it is ‘unlikely these compounds, as they are now, would be useful drugs for Ebola”. However, the scientists hope their new understanding of how the drugs bind to Ebola’s glycoprotein could allow for the development of stronger compounds, which could be used to create efficacious anti-Ebola medication. Many will be thankful that a common headache cure could be the springboard for developing effective relief to the world’s Ebola migraine.