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15 July 2017

Adelaide ’breakthrough’ for deadly virus

Katie Meyler, founder and CEO of More Than Me, went to Liberia to build a school for young girls. But everything has changed since Ebola struck. Watch Ms. Meyler’s journey unfold through her Instagram account.

French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres health care workers in Monrovia, Liberia, treating Ebola patients in 2014. An outbreak in west Africa between December 2013 and January 2016 affected 28,816 people, killing 11,310.

SOUTH Australian scientists believe they have found the key to containing the deadly Ebola virus that has killed thousands of people in Africa.

Researchers from Flinders University, Emory University in the US and Australia’s CSIRO have discovered a “super cell” they say may act as a “reservoir” to keep the virus from spreading.

The team has found a clue to how the virus may continue to live in the eyes of survivors suffering from uveitis — one of the more serious and common complications of the disease.

A scar on the eye of an ebola survivor, physician Dr Ian Crozier, led the team to the discovery.

Dr Crozier was working for the World Health Organisation in Sierra Leone, west Africa, in 2014, when he contracted Ebola.

Flinders University ophthalmologist Justine Smith, who is leading the SA research team, told the Sunday Mail a scar on Dr Crozier’s eye prompted the research after the doctor, who survived the virus, visited Australia.

French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres health care workers in Monrovia, Liberia, treating Ebola patients in 2014. An outbreak in west Africa between December 2013 and January 2016 affected 28,816 people, killing 11,310.

French NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres health care workers in Monrovia, Liberia, treating Ebola patients in 2014. An outbreak in west Africa between December 2013 and January 2016 affected 28,816 people, killing 11,310.Source:AFP

“We took cells (from Dr Cozier’s eye) to the CSIRO and infected them with Ebola, brought it back to Flinders, processed it and looked at which cells were being affected and which were not,” Prof Smith said.

“Ebola is smart enough to turn off your cell’s ability to fight the virus and that’s why it’s so successful and so dangerous.

Prof Smith said Ebola was able to multiply readily in the retinal pigment epithelial cells, which exist as a single layer of cells right under, and protects, the retina at the back of the eye.

“But what we have found is that these cells could keeping fighting the virus and that could obviously stop the virus spreading around … or contain it,” she said.

Prof Smith said understanding why this cell was able to get around the virus could determine how to contain Ebola.

“While it might appear to be a bad thing that the eyes can harbour Ebola, this is not necessarily true if what we are looking at is actually a very clever containment of the virus by epithelial cells,” she said.

“In terms of how they seem to be able to limit Ebola activity and protect the human carrier from further infection, these epithelial cells appear to be something of a super cell.”

Ebola was first identified in 1976 and has been the subject of an estimated 24 outbreaks between then and 2013.

An outbreak in west Africa between December 2013 and January 2016 affected 28,816 people, killing 11,310.

There was another outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May this year.

About one in four Ebola survivors from Sierra Leone suffer from uveitis, or inflammation inside the eye, which can result in vision loss or blindness.

The eye now joins the testes as a location where live Ebola virus can be found up to one year post-infection.

Originally published as Adelaide ’breakthrough’ for deadly virus

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