There is no cure for the deadly ebola virus, but University of Illinois at Chicago scientists may have figured out a way to prevent it from entering human cells. Writing in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, researcher Duncan Wardrop says that he has found a family of small molecules that binds to the virus and may block its way into cells. It was previously known that small molecules could interfere with ebola infections, but these compounds "appear to exert their effects by altering the cells' response to the virus once it's entered the cell--by which time it's too late," he said.
First thing the team did was, of course, to create a harmless virus that contained the protein coat of ebola. That way, no scientists would be harmed during the experiment. Next, after screening more than 230 candidate compounds, Wardrop and UIC virologist Lijun Rong found a molecule that prevented the ebola virus from entering a cell. And, as kind of two-for-one deal, the molecule appeared also to prevent the entry of Marburg, another deadly pathogen.
The new findings demonstrate that it is possible for a small molecule to bind to the virus before it has a chance to enter the cell and thereby prevent infection. The next step is to try this technique on lab animals.