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Potential Clue to Ebola Treatments Uncovered

Unusual protein identified in quest for drug remedies

THURSDAY, Oct. 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists who mapped out the shape and structure of a key protein in the Ebola virus say their discovery could help efforts to develop drugs to prevent or treat infection with the pathogen. Their research was published in the September issue of Acta Crystallographica Section D.

The protein has a molecular architecture unlike any protein known to exist. Its distinctive folded shape may be crucial to how the virus replicates itself inside cells. "This provides us with clues about how to interfere with the process of infection, as well as replication of the virus, which can, in turn, lead to discovery of new drugs and therapies that would take care of the disease," Zygmunt Derewenda, Ph.D., of the department of molecular physiology and biological physics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, said in a university news release.

The protein is "functionally very important, because it is the protein responsible for the packaging of the ribonucleic acid in the cell, so there are many copies of this protein that are necessary to accomplish that function," Derewenda explained. "This also means it may be easier to design drugs that bind to this protein because our target is so abundant in the cell and we can interfere with its function."

Another University of Virginia researcher is using the findings about this Ebola protein in his efforts to pinpoint compounds that can inhibit the infection process and could be developed into drugs to fight Ebola. About 40,000 compounds are being screened by Daniel Engel, Ph.D., of the university's department of microbiology, immunology, and cancer biology. "The idea is that if you survey such a large number of compounds, because of the diversity in chemical structure that they have, you should be able to find compounds that inhibit the process you're looking at -- in this case, Ebola replication," Engel said in the news release.

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