Apr 22, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Can our Genes Give Us Superhuman Invincibility to Ebola?

Nov 01, 2014 06:01 PM EDT

Since its outbreak earlier this year that caused widespread deaths in West Africa, Ebola has been an area much studied by international health organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and research centers around the world. All these studies aim at finding the best treatment and vaccination for the disease, which has currently infected 13,000 people and killed more than 5,000 people. Recently, a recent study uncovers the possibility that genetic makeup may have an effect on how our bodies would react to Ebola. It might  determine if one, given his or her genes, could survive such a deadly illness.

University of Washington researchers have arrived at the conclusion that individual genetic codes could play a role in the body's reception of the Ebola virus.

For the study, the researchers used specially bred mice that were injected with the Ebola strain. The mice used in the study were genetically diverse, which could represent diversity among human genes. The results yielded varied reactions from the mice. Around 40 per cent of the mice died and showed the symptoms associated with the disease such as internal hemorrhaging, liver inflammation, weight loss swollen spleen, fever and internal bleeding. The other 40 per cent perished without showing the symptoms. The remaining 20 per cent recovered completely from the virus.

Angela Rasmussen, study co-head , and part of the University of Washington department of microbiology, said  that "there's definitely a genetic component" in the body's reaction to the virus. She and her colleagues are beginning to investigate which genes make a mouse more or less likely to become ill with the disease. Some of these variations may be applicable to humans, or help in finding the right treatment or vaccine for the disease.

Michael Katze of the University of Washington also agrees: "These 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. We hope that medical researchers will be able to rapidly apply these findings to candidate therapeutics and vaccines."

Humans have a wide array of genetic combination making it possible that some genes are more resistant to Ebola than the others. The scientists are also trying to assess if the Ebola survivors may have been able to fight off an early viral exposure and make their immune systems more resistant to Ebola virus.

While others are skeptical about the applicability of the research to human beings, the researchers are hopeful that their study would shed light to the mystery of Ebola.

"This paper isn't earth shattering, but it's the first step in being able to do this kind of genetic analysis in humans,"Katza said. "You can go to the doctor and get your genome sequenced and find out how likely you are to get certain types of cancer. Maybe someday they'll also say, 'Hey, don't go to West Africa, it looks like you're susceptible to Ebola.' That's the dream."

The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.

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