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EXPERT AVAILABLE: MU Researcher Suggests Funding for Ebola Research and Vaccines is Critical to Controlling Transmission

Ebola not yet considered a threat in the U.S.

October 29th, 2014

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346, sossamonj@missouri.edu

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Ebola virus, the hemorrhagic fever that originated in multiple countries of Western Africa and is now affecting Europe and the U.S., has led to more than 4,900 deaths in Africa and abroad. Shan-Lu Liu, a virologist at the University of Missouri, suggests increased public and private funding for the study of Ebola, as well as financing for vaccines and therapeutics, will help control the transmission of the disease and lead to more favorable outcomes.

Liu studies the early behaviors of the Ebola virus as well as its transmission and how it navigates the hosts’ immune response. Currently, his lab uses recombinant, or inactive, forms of the virus that are not infectious.

“The numbers for potential cases in the current outbreak in Africa are most alarming,” said Liu, an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the School of Medicine and a researcher in the Bond Life Sciences Center at MU. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have projected the virus could infect 1.4 million people in West Africa alone, and that could realistically happen. It’s a prediction; however, agencies and the scientific community need to look at these predictions very carefully.”

Liu advises that increased funding for the study of basic and fundamental mechanisms of the diseases is key to better response rates and knowledge of transmission in times of epidemic.

“We constantly are learning more about the virus,” Liu said. “We know that Ebola virus is not that stable outside the body, unlike hepatitis B virus that requires boiling for 10 minutes before it’s considered noninfectious. Transmission of Ebola virus is not as understood as it needs to be to make important decisions about how to combat the epidemic. Infection is a complex process and we still need to study it and see how it ‘ticks.’ In order to do that, federal funding as well as private funding—in the case of the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, who recently donated $25 million to fight the disease—is critical.”

Vaccines are clearly important and urgently needed for stopping the current epidemic. However, financing of those vaccines have been delayed as well, Liu said.

“One of the best approaches for treating Ebola, and also other viral infections including HIV/AIDS is to use new broad neutralizing antibodies. However, vaccine and drug trials are very tedious and require many steps for approval, and there often isn’t enough of a return on the investment for pharmaceutical companies. An estimated 1.4 million cases of Ebola possibly on the horizon might give some of these drug industry professionals a reason to pursue it.”

Liu also studies HIV, influenza A virus and hepatitis C virus.  A recent study, “TIM-Family Proteins Inhibit HIV-1 Release” published by Liu’s research group in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reports that the TIM-family proteins block release of HIV, Ebola virus and other viruses. A better understanding of how TIM-family proteins, as well as many cellular intrinsic factors that inhibit viral infections, may hold promise for the ultimate prevention and treatment of viral diseases.

Liu’s research is currently supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health grants (AI112381, AI109464, AI105584, AI107095, and AI057160) and by funding from The University of Missouri.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Editor’s Note: For a complete version of Liu’s Q&A, please visit: “The only thing you need to read about Ebola today: an expert Q&A

Further articles about Liu’s Ebola and HIV research can be found here:

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