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AU researchers produce drug that may fight Ebola

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AUBURN, AL (WTVM) -

Auburn University researchers believe they may be on the heels of a drug that could eventually slow down or even stop the deadly Ebola virus.

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed nearly 1,000 people in West Africa, and sent two American doctors to treatment in the isolation unit at Emory University in Atlanta.

Auburn Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Stewart Schneller is leading the group of researchers that designed a compound aimed at reversing the immune-blocking abilities of certain viruses, including Ebola.  

Their discovery will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry, and more extensive studies with the new developments are already underway through a partnership with the National Institute of Health.

"In simple terms, the Ebola virus has the ability to turn off the body's natural immune response," Schneller says. "We have made a small tweak in compound structure that will turn that response back on."

This could once again give the body a chance to fight the illness.

There are currently no drugs to combat Ebola. Other researchers are developing immunizations that might one day lessen the virus' impact, but Schneller says vaccines have limitations that other drugs do not.

"Vaccines offer a promising therapeutic approach, but they can't be given to everyone in a population, including the young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems," says Schneller. "This and other factors support the need for drug therapy as we fight this disease."

Schneller has studied Ebola for the past decade. It's a severe, often fatal illness in humans. Outbreaks have occurred primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa near tropical rainforests. It is transmitted to people from wild animals, and spreads in the human population through personal contact with blood, organs and other bodily fluids of an infected individual.

The drug design research taking place in Schneller's laboratory has focused on combating a variety of virus-caused infections, including Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis C and others.

"It's a long process that has taken 10 years to get to this point," said Schneller. "You think you can outsmart the virus or outsmart nature, but that does not happen. So we have to redesign. We made this one small change and it has made a dramatic difference."