Could Ebola Carriers Be the Key to Cure?
Bats may have been vilified for transmitting Ebola to humans but scientists believe they also hold the key to the cure.
According to researchers from the University of Cambridge, bats are carriers of more than 100 viral infections including SARS, Ebola and Rabies. They however remain to it. Cancers in bats are also said to be rare. Intrigued, researchers are studying the bat's immune system to see if certain features which protect it from these viruses it carriers, can be replicated in other animals.
"If we can understand how they do it then that could lead to better ways to treat infections that are highly lethal in people and other mammals," IB Times quoted Olivier Restiff of Cambridge.
The current Ebola outbreak, the most deadly since isolation of the virus in 1976, has left as many as 5,000 dead and more than 10,000 infected. With the virus making its way out of Africa, the demand for cure and vaccine have become more pressing than ever but they continue to remain elusive. Fruit bats are natural hosts of the virus and transmit it to other animals through contaminated food. Bush meat eating has been attributed to the current outbreak in West Africa.
Researchers believe that the therapeutic benefits of replicating the bat's immune system, outweighs any disadvantages.
Past research linked flying to bat's resistance by arguing that flight caused cell stress which could only be repaired by an 'always on' immune system. Bats are known to have high concentration of cell-repair DNA and immune cells called interferon, which are known to mount immune response to viral infections like Ebola.
When the deadly virus attacks mammals which are not resistant to it, like humans, it blocks immune system activity. Researchers hope that by replicating bat's mechanism of keeping the immune system on, Ebola can be kept at bay.