A study that some early researchers in Sierra Leone gave their lives for has yielded incredibly important results, reports ABC Science.
The study, published in Science, reveals the rates of mutation in the deadly Ebola virus, that has so far claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, including more than 140 health care workers.
The samples, taken from 78 infected individuals, show that during the early outbreak more than 300 genetic changes occurred as the virus moved from person to person. Scientists say the virus is mutating about twice as fast in humans than it was in animal hosts, such as fruit bats.
The team used a technique called deep sequencing, which allowed them to track changes in genetic sequences between different patients and within different cells inside a single patient.
The research revealed that the virus’ protein coat has changed, which could suggest that it is now better able to bind to human cells and evade the immune system.
The mutations may be significant if they reduce the effectiveness of diagnostic tests and treatments currently being developed.
The data was pre-published online and Erica Ollmann Saphire of the Scripps Research Institute in the US says her lab has already checked whether the mutations will affect the drug they are developing to fight Ebola. It appears they do not but further tests are required to see if other drugs are still going to work.
The Ebola virus is likely to spread further and the World Health Organisation reports that some 20,000 people are at risk of infection.