July 29, 2019

Ebola virus is a continuing threat in Central and West Africa, with an outbreak currently taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the factors that determine who is most susceptible to Ebola infection are still a mystery.

Now,  researchers at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, home to the Southwest National Primate Research Center —in collaboration with the University of Iowa—are investigating how malaria infections could impact people exposed to Ebola virus, since both diseases are common and recurring in the Congo.

Other co-infections are known to impact each other’s outcome. For example, patients infected with HIV-1, a virus that causes AIDS, are more susceptible to tuberculosis infection.

“A significant number of people entering Ebola Virus Treatment Units during the 2014-2016 West African outbreak were infected with both the malarial parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, and Ebola virus,” explained Professor Wendy Maury, PhD, the lead investigator at the University of Iowa.

The hypothesis is that people with an acute (active and recent) malarial infection, where the body’s immune response is already ramped up, have a greater chance of surviving Ebola infection. However, if people have chronic malaria, then they are hypothesized to be more susceptible to Ebola.

The researchers will begin by taking white blood cells from infected mice and studying them to determine what role they may play in dual malaria/Ebola infection. Knowing if the hypothesis is supported might change how doctors design therapies for Ebola in areas where both diseases are present, perhaps paving the way for more tailored therapeutics.

SNPRC’S part in the study will be a two-year process. The next step may involve testing in a higher-level animal model, such as nonhuman primates.


Photo credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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