The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University a five-year, $4.8 million grant to study the molecular mechanism that allows the Ebola virus to cause infection and spread in animals.
The Ebola virus is one of the world’s deadliest viruses, causing fatal hemorrhagic fevers in humans and in primates. It is highly contagious, and there is no known cure. Ebola kills up to 90 percent of the people it infects.
The grant award builds on earlier groundbreaking research. Einstein scientists were part of a multi-institutional team that helped to identify the protein (Niemann-Pick C1 or NPC1) critical for infection by the Ebola virus. The team, led at Einstein by Kartik Chandran, PhD, associate professor of microbiology & immunology and principal investigator of the new NIH grant, showed that cells that did not make NPC1 could not be infected by Ebola. The findings were published last August in Nature. A follow-up paper from the same team, published in EMBO Journal, demonstrated that NPC1 is an essential receptor for entry of Ebola virus into cells.
The NIH grant will study the interaction between NPC1 and Ebola that lead to infection and determine how NPC1 functions as a critical receptor for the virus. Because such interactions are often crucial to the emergence and spread of a virus into new populations, Einstein researchers are also investigating NPC1’s role in infection within different species that may harbor the virus in nature.
“To learn more about how the virus might jump from animals to humans, we’re studying the interaction between the virus and NPC1 proteins in different animals, like bats and rodents, that are found in known Ebola hotspots,” says Chandran. “Our understanding of what controls Ebola’s emergence is limited and we hope that our project will pinpoint possible targets for antiviral drugs designed to combat it.”
Other investigators on this grant are from the Scripps Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego. Global Viral Forecasting, a pandemic surveillance organization, will provide the samples from animals native to Ebola-endemic areas in central and West Africa.
The grant “Mechanism of receptor-mediated entry and infection by filoviruses” (AI101436) was awarded by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH.