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Genetic study offers hope to cure 2014 strain of Ebola

The present strain of the Ebola virus is genetically different from previous strains of the virus. An international team of researchers from MIT, Harvard University, the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, and across the world has defined the genetics of the newest version of Ebola in record time in an effort to prevent more deaths. The research was published in the Aug. 28, 2014 edition of the journal Science.

John Karpee, 24, lies in an observation room at a government clinic on August 24, 2014, in Dolo Town, Liberia.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The present version of Ebola that has killed 55 percent of the people in Africa that have been infected with the disease has 395 genetic differences from the Ebola virus that was first known in Africa in 1976. The virus was spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone by 12 people who had attended the same funeral and has mutated over the last 10 years. The gene sequence is considered to be exact because it is the result of sequencing the virus from 78 patients diagnosed with Ebola in Sierra Leone during the first 24 days of the outbreak.

This version of Ebola appears to be more transferable from person to person than previous strains of the virus. The rate of transmission may be the result of the large number of people that live close together in the countries where the virus is active. The researchers cannot claim with absolute certainty that the genetic changes that Ebola has undergone have made this version of the virus more deadly. The sequencing included replicates from the same individuals that demonstrated how the virus changed with time post infection.

The new genome for Ebola was made available to researchers across the world as soon as it was complete. Genetic differences may make a vaccine that can kill the virus easier to develop. It is noteworthy that one of the researchers that developed this study, Dr. Humarr Khan, died from the disease before the paper was published.

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