Researchers from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, led by Dr. Anthony Griffiths, revealed a potentially promising therapeutic approach against the Ebola virus after conducting a detailed study.
The study, “Determination and Therapeutic Exploitation of Ebola Virus Spontaneous Mutation Frequency,” will be printed in the Journal of Virology in March but is available online now.
Griffiths’ lab had been studying the virus well before the 2014 outbreak that claimed more than 11,000 lives of the nearly 30,000 people who were infected. Their research focuses on using advanced sequencing technology to understand the genotypic differences among Ebola populations in an effort to develop vaccines and other therapeutic drugs to target and treat the complex virus.
In the current study, Griffiths and his team used a mouse and a primate model to determine whether Ebola was sensitive to increasing mutation rates by administering ribavirin, an antiviral drug used to treat infections caused by several RNA viruses, including the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
After analysis by ultra-deep sequencing techniques, the team discovered that Ebola was unable to tolerate excessive changes in its genome. This means, if further testing confirms the results, that drugs such as ribavirin have the potential to be an effective therapeutic option for treating Ebola.
“When we started this work, there was not an appreciation that the Ebola virus had any capacity to evolve and if those changes would be well tolerated,” Griffiths said in a news release. “We found the Ebola virus had very limited ability to tolerate spontaneous changes in the genome, thus it was reasoned that chemically increasing the mutation frequency may decrease the number of viable virions released from a cell.
“Any change in a genome can be neutral, negative, or positive to a virus… Interestingly, viruses appear to have evolved to have an optimal mutation rate. Increasing the mutation rate could produce a negative effect on the virus and serve as a valuable therapeutic tool,” Griffiths said.
“Now we have shown the potential of modifying mutation rate as a therapeutic tool for Ebola virus infections. We plan to test other drugs in the hope of improving the efficacy observed using ribavirin,” he said.