Host Microbe Biology

Biomarkers That Can Predict Fatal Ebola Infections Identified


Eleven biomarkers that distinguish fatal Ebola infections from non-fatal ones have been identified by an international team of researchers from the US, Japan, and Sierra Leone.  They include high levels of plasma cytokines, high levels of the virus, changes in plasma lipids involved in metabolic processes like blood coagulation, and more pronounced activation of certain immune cells.  Two of these markers – L.-threonine and vitamin-D-binding-protein – were low at the time of admission in patients who eventually died, and pancreatic enzymes were found in the blood samples of patients with fatal disease.  Many of the biomarkers overlap with sepsis.

The researchers hope their findings will allow clinicians to prioritize scarce treatment resources and give them to their sickest patients.

The team was led by Katrina Waters, Thomas Metz, and Richard D. Smith, all of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  Colleagues at the University of Wisconsin obtained 29 blood samples from 11 patients who survived Ebola and 9 blood samples from 9 patients who died from the virus in the 2014 epidemic in Sierra Leone.  They inactivated the virus, then analyzed everything they could in each sample, including activity levels of genes and proteins, the amount of lipids present, and byproducts of metabolism.

Caption: Health workers tend to a patient at one of Sierra Leone’s military hospitals.
Credit: Photo courtesy of the Kawaoka lab, UW-Madison
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For more information, go to the November 16 issue of Cell Host & Microbe.