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Archive - Jul 25, 2013

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Scientists Identify Vulnerability of Deadly Ebola Virus

Disabling a protein in Ebola virus-infected cells can stop the virus from replicating and infecting the host, according to researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The data are published in the July 17, 2013 issue of the journal Cell Host & Microbe. Ebola viruses cause severe disease in humans because they can deactivate the innate immune system. Christopher Basler, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology at Mount Sinai and his team have studied how Ebola viruses evade the immune system, and discovered that a viral protein called VP35 is critical to deactivating the immune system. They found that when VP35 interacts with an important cellular protein called PACT, it blocks PACT from activating the immune system, allowing the virus to spread. "Ebola viruses are extremely lethal, and are a great threat to human health as a bioweapon," said Dr. Basler. "Currently, there is no approved vaccine or treatment. Our findings will hopefully pave the way for future antiviral treatments." With the help of collaborators at the University of Texas with access to special high containment facilities, Dr. Basler and his team infected healthy cells using Ebola virus-infected cells that had mutated versions of VP35. The mutations disabled VP35's ability to interact with PACT, therefore allowing it to activate the immune system and prevent the virus from replicating. Next, the researchers overexpressed PACT in healthy cells, and infected them with Ebola virus cells. They found that overexpressing PACT also inhibited viral replication. Armed with this discovery, Dr. Basler and his team hope to develop drugs that disrupt the interaction of VP35 with PACT, or drugs that overexpress PACT.

Simple Blood Test for Fibomyalgia Shows Promise

Researchers have developed a reliable way to use a finger-stick blood sample to detect fibromyalgia syndrome, a complicated pain disorder that often is difficult to diagnose. If it were someday made available to primary care physicians, the test could knock up to five years off of the wait for a diagnosis, researchers predict. In a pilot study, the scientists used a high-powered and specialized microscope to detect the presence of small molecules in blood-spot samples from patients known to have fibromyalgia. By "training" the equipment to recognize that molecular pattern, the researchers then showed that the microscope could tell the difference between fibromyalgia and two types of arthritis that share some of the same symptoms. Though more analysis is needed to identify exactly which molecules are related to development of the disorder itself, the researchers say their pilot data are promising. "We've got really good evidence of a test that could be an important aid in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia patients," said Dr. Tony Buffington, professor of veterinary clinical sciences at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. "We would like this to lead to an objective test for primary care doctors to use, which could produce a diagnosis as much as five years before it usually occurs." Patients with fibromyalgia are often desperate by the time they receive treatment because of the lengthy process required to make a diagnosis. The main symptoms, persistent pain and fatigue, mimic many other conditions, so physicians tend to rule out other potential causes before diagnosing fibromyalgia. Additional symptoms include disrupted sleep and memory or thought problems.