WASHINGTON (AP) — Researchers have identified the portion of the Ebola virus that causes massive bleeding, the frightening hallmark of the deadly disease that has begun appearing periodically in Africa.
Although Ebola is not common or widespread, it has received much attention since first being reported in 1976 because of the fear generated by the heavy bleeding and the disease's 90 percent death rate.
Researchers studying Ebola at the National Institutes of Health found a sugar-containing molecule called glycoprotein sticking out from the surface of the virus.
In test tube experiments, they discovered a portion of this protein caused it to destroy endothelial cells. Endothelial cells line blood vessels, and by attacking them the protein caused the vessels to leak, the researchers said.
The team, led by Zhi-Yong Yang and Dr. Gary Nabel of the NIH Vaccine Research Center in Bethesda, Md., reported their findings in the August issue of the journal Nature Medicine, published Tuesday. The study results were released Sunday.
No vaccine or specific treatment exists for Ebola, but the researchers' finding may help point the way toward development of new drugs or vaccines aimed at reducing or preventing the disease.