Other strains of laboratory mice do not develop Ebola disease consistent with human symptoms. This led researchers to wonder if mice are immune to Ebola or if there are some susceptible breeds.
If there is a susceptible breed, figured researchers, then it may be possible to work with mouse genetics to understand what genes also influence Ebola susceptibility in humans.
“You can’t look for a cure for Ebola unless you have an animal model that mimics the Ebola virus disease spectra,” explains study co-author Ralph Baric, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and School of Medicine.
“For the first time,” he says, “we were able to produce a novel platform for rapidly developing new mouse models that replicate human disease for this virus, as well as other important emerging human pathogens.”
Ebola mouse provides evidence of genetic susceptibility
The UNC scientists partnered with researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle and the National Institute of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, MT, to produce the new line of mice.
This team worked with eight genetic mouse variants to produce a strain of mice that exhibit Ebola symptoms consistent with the human experience of the infection. The research reveals the combination of genes involved in producing Ebola symptoms.
In particular, the findings – published in the journal Science – revealed that a gene responsible for encoding the protein TEK was important in creating the desired susceptibility to the virus.
Co-author Martin Ferris, a research assistant professor of genetics in the UNC School of Medicine, says:
“Public perception of Ebola infection typically focuses on the high mortality rate following hemorrhagic fever, but Ebola actually produces a range of disease symptoms. During an outbreak, it is often difficult to assess the role that genetic variation plays in determining disease severity in people. And if we’re going to develop treatments, then we need to know about this genetic variation.”
However, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, NY, reported some success in September in testing a new Ebola treatment on mice.
The treatment the Yeshiva team is working on is an antibody therapy for the Sudan strain of Ebola virus (SUDV) – one of the two most lethal Ebola variants.
Initially, the team used mouse antibodies that protect the animals against SUDV by binding to the envelope glycoprotein on the surface of the virus. They then used a human antibody as a scaffold, onto which the Ebola-specific segment of the mouse antibody was grafted.
The researchers found that two variants of the resulting molecule proved to be successful at repelling SUDV in specially bred mice. However, the team says more research is needed before the antibody therapy can be tested in humans.