As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, scientists are working behind the scenes to blend the power of computers with biology in an effort to use the human genome to remove much of the guesswork involved in discovering cures for diseases.
In an article titled “Ebola-Associated Genes in the Human Genome: Implications for Novel Targets,” published in the current MedCrave Online Journal of Proteomics and Bioinformatics, Dr. Ramaswamy Narayanan, Ph.D., professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University, describes how key genes that are present in our cells could be used to develop drugs for this disease.
“Bioinformatics is a powerful tool to help us understand biological data,” said Dr. Narayanan, whose research has focused in this field for more than a decade. “We are mining the human genome for Ebola virus association to develop an understanding of the human proteins involved in this disease for subsequent research and development, and to potentially create a pipeline of targets that we can test and evaluate.”
Ebola is a major healthcare challenge facing the globe today and if left unchecked could become a pandemic. A limited knowledge-base exists about the Ebola virus, and companies are hastening to develop vaccines and other drugs to treat and cure the virus. There are no FDA-approved drugs, and developing vaccines or antibodies and testing them in clinical trials is an arduous process that takes considerable time. Currently, patients infected with Ebola are only able to receive supportive care such as fluid replacement, nutritional support, pain control, and blood pressure maintenance. In some cases, patients may be fortunate enough to be treated with experimental drugs.
Dr. Narayanan’s work has helped to identify numerous FDA-approved drugs already used for many other diseases including anti-inflammatory drugs, anticoagulants, cancer, HIV, statins and hormones, which could potentially be used to add to the current supportive care for patients with the Ebola virus.
“With the high mortality rate of this disease, the world urgently needs new ways to treat patients,” said Dr. Narayanan. “The ability to use drugs that are already approved by the FDA could provide clinicians with more options to treat Ebola patients, rather than just relying on supportive measures like fluid replacement or antibiotics.”
Ebola is a severe, often fatal illness in humans, with a fatality rate of 60-70 percent in the current outbreak. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads among the human population via direct contact with contaminated bodily fluids. The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest and most complex outbreak of the virus in history, with 19,031 reported cases and 7,373 deaths as of mid-December.