Genes may determine who survives Ebola

Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle may have clues as to the role genes play in determining who has a better chance of surviving Ebola.

In the study, published in the journal Science,  mice were infected with a, “mouse-adopted” strain of Ebola, and observed in the lab. The scientists wanted to see if Ebola survival is based on prior immune system exposure to infections or if genetics are what help fight the disease. While the researchers weren’t able to answer the question of whether immune system responses were a big factor in determining who survives, they do believe that s, “there is definitely a genetic component.”

Mice were bred from eight different strains of the animal in order to mimic the genetic diversity found in humans. Researchers also bred an alternate group of lab mice that were not genetically varied. When given the Ebola virus, the conventional lab mice died once infected.  Those mice that were genetically diverse, suffered a range of symptoms including weight loss, internal bleeding, and changes to liver tissue. Similarly, humans exhibit a wide range of symptoms once infected with Ebola.

"The mice were infected with exactly the same dose by exactly the same route by the same investigator.  The only thing that was different was the genetic background," said study co-author Michael Katze.

Disease studies in the past have been limited by the lack of trials on mice.  Ebola has most frequently been studied in monkeys, but they can be much more difficult to work with, particularly within the strict confines of a highly secure biocontainment lab.

The researchers hope their study will help scientists better understand the Ebola virus, which has now killed almost 5,000 people in Africa. 

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Sourced from: Reuters, Individual genetic differences may affect Ebola survival: study (Reuters)