Ottawa: Researchers have identified the Achilles' heel of haemorrhagic fever viruses, targeting which can help combat the diseases that they cause.
Viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs) refer to a group of illnesses caused by several distinct families of viruses, including the Ebola virus.
These diseases present a dramatic risk to human health as they often spread quickly and kill a high percentage of infected individuals, as demonstrated by the recent Ebola outbreaks.
"Although our work does not directly lead to treatments on a short term, it does identify a process where the virus could be vulnerable to drug therapy, or how we might design an attenuated viral strain for vaccine development," said first author Normand Cyr from the University of Montreal in Canada.
The researchers found that certain viral proteins essential for propagation of the virus imitate human DNA repair factors and using drugs to dam this chemical reaction would condemn the disease's infectiousness.
"Identification of the Achilles heels of haemorrhagic fever viruses like the Rift Valley fever virus will help inspire additional research and eventually lead to the development of new therapeutic strategies to treat these deadly tropical infections," Cyr noted.
The researchers used Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy studies to investigate the structural properties of an important viral protein required for virulence of the Rift Valley fever virus, a virus that causes infections in both humans and livestock similar to the Ebola virus.
"The structural details reported show that the viral protein uses a simple motif that is similar to that found in human DNA repair proteins, and blocking this binding event with drugs would certainly weaken the virulence of the virus," senior study co-author James Omichinski, professor at the University of Montreal explained.
The study appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US (PNAS).