In new research Scientists have identified a ‘molecular barcode’ in the blood of patients with Ebola virus disease that can predict whether they are likely to survive or die from the deadly infection.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool in the UK and Boston University in the US used blood samples taken from infected and recovering patients during the 2013-2016 West Africa outbreak to identify gene products that act as strong predictors of patient outcome.
The new research provides data on the underlying causes of Ebola virus infection and suggests that this type of blood analysis could be integrated into future outbreak responses as a diagnostic tool to help guide treatment strategies.
Since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa much research has been done to further understand the biology of the Ebola virus.
In particular, the processes that lead to survival or a fatal infection are unknown, although the amount of virus present in the body (viral load) can be a key determinant.
However, while this premise worked well for predicting outcomes for people with extreme viral loads, it was less clear for people with mid-range counts, the majority of cases, where the outcome prediction was approximately equal between survival and a fatal infection.
The results of this new study identified a small number of genes whose expression accurately predicts patient survival, independent of viral load.
Blood samples collected by the European Mobile Laboratory in Guinea of Ebola patients who either went on to survive or die from the acute infection, were analysed using genomic techniques to identify and quantify messenger RNA (mRNA) expression.
These results were compared to blood samples from a separate group of survivors who had recovered from infection and were now free of the Ebola virus.
The analysis also provided some fundamental information on the host response to Ebola virus infection in humans and found that an immediate robust immune response did not affect whether people went on to live or die from the infection.
The data also points to the virus causing significant liver damage.
“Our study provides a benchmark of Ebola virus infection in humans, and suggests that rapid analysis of a patient’s response to infection in an outbreak could provide valuable predictive information on disease outcome,” said Julian Hiscox from the University of Liverpool.
“It is not just defining how much Ebola virus that is present in a patient that defines whether a patient will survive,” said John Connor, associate professor at Boston University.
“How the patient fights the infection is also key. Defining common aspects of how the immune system responds in individuals that survive opens a new window for studying how to keep Ebola virus infection from being a fatal infection,” said Connor.
The study was published in the journal Genome Biology.
‘Molecular barcode’ in the blood predict survival outcome in Ebola patients