Scientists Use Nanobodies to Detect All Types of Ebola Virus

Even a previously unknown strain of the virus has been discovered during development.
Loukia Papadopoulos
3D illustration of the Ebola virus with red blood cells.ACS Infect. Dis.

We have recently heard a lot about nanobodies, mostly for their use in treating the coronavirus. In May of 2021, researchers developed a new inhalable nanobody-based treatment that could prevent and treat the COVID-19 coronavirus via ultra-low doses. Although the treatment was still in a very early, preclinical phase, it offered the hope that scientists could fundamentally change the way we prevent radical viruses on a societal level.

Then, in August of 2021, researchers conceived of new nanobodies that could block the coronavirus infection and lock Spikes into an inactive mode. For the uninitiated, the coronavirus associated with causing COVID-19 makes its way into human host cells using its Spike protein and a host cell receptor. The new synthetic nanobodies would disrupt that process.

Now, researchers are working on nanobody tests to detect all known and even yet unknown species of the Ebola virus, according to c&en. They engineered single-domain antibodies, known as nanobodies, to be used against five species of Ebola, and then used the same antibodies to detect a sixth species that was unknown up to now.

“This approach of trying to find conserved antibodies that cut across various different species has a lot of utility," told c&en Daniel Bausch, director of emerging threats and global health security at the nonprofit Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, who was not involved in the study.

The research team used lamas to produce these nanobodies. If this sounds familiar, it's because a llama-based antibody cocktail has already been used to neutralize the COVID-19 virus.

In this case, the scientists injected a pair of llamas with proteins from the five known Ebola viruses. They then isolated and sequenced the antibodies the animals produced in response to this action. 

The study enabled the scientists to identify the two nanobodies that strongly bound to all five nucleoproteins leading to the development of nanobodies that can detect all kinds of Ebola viruses. The next step in this ingenious process would now be to test if the nanobodies could be further engineered to produce antiviral therapies in addition to diagnostics.

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