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QBI scientists decipher how Ebola, dengue, and Zika infect human cells

Findings open doors to future treatments

The Ebola, dengue, and Zika viruses wreak havoc on thousands of communities each year unchecked because there are no effective cures. But researchers from the Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) at UCSF and the Gladstone Institutes may have finally discovered how these viruses infect human cells, and their findings are opening new avenues for future treatments.

In collaboration with research groups around the country, the researchers discovered that all three viruses sneak into human cells by hijacking human proteins. They also directly identified a drug that blocks this process for dengue and Zika in human cells in the laboratory, thus preventing infection—a necessary first step towards developing better therapies.

These results appeared in two studies, one study focusing on Ebola and the other study focusing on dengue and Zika, published December 13, 2018, in the same issue of the journal Cell. The work involved collaborations across many institutions in addition to QBI and the Gladstone Institutes, including Georgia State University, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Baylor College of Medicine.

Both studies were led by QBI Director Nevan Krogan, PhD, who is also a faculty member in the UCSF School of Medicine’s Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and a senior investigator at the Gladstone Institutes. QBI is an Organized Research Unit in the School of Pharmacy.

“We’re starting to see there’s overlap among the proteins hijacked by different viruses,” Krogan told Gladstone News. “Not only that, but these same proteins are often mutated in diseases with genetic roots, like cancer and autism. The more commonalities we can find between seemingly unrelated diseases, the better we can identify therapies to treat these devastating conditions.”

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About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.