Ebola and related viruses cause hemorrhagic fever and death through organ failure, and can have a mortality rate of up to 90%, among the highest of any known human disease.
But researchers working in a high-contaminant biological laboratory maintained by USAMRIID at Fort Detrick in Maryland, US, may have found a potential cure, they've reported in Nature.
The scientists have discovered a molecule, named BCX4430, which looks a lot like the "A" that makes up DNA: adenosine. Adenosine is one of four base pairs in DNA, and is also used in the genomes of RNA-based viruses, such as Ebola.
But because BCX4430 looks so much like Adenosine, the scientists found that members of the Filoviridae virus family, such as Ebola, can accidentally use it as a building block when trying to grow inside our cells.
This is a deadly mistake, writes RealClearScience, as BCX4430 blocks virus growth and reproduction and stops the virus in its tracks.
In the study, the team gave Macaque monkeys effected with the deadly Marburg virus (a close relative to Ebola) two doses for BCX4430 a day for 14 days.
The monkeys who weren't given any of the treatment were dead by day 12, whereas all but one monkey who was given BCX4430 survived, even if they only received treatment 48 hours after they were infected.
Luckily, only viruses appear to be tricked into using BCX4430, and human and monkey cells do just fine with the molecule around.
In vitro experiments also suggest that BCX4430 could potentially be used against a wide range of viruses, including SARS, influenza, measles and dengue.
It's too early to get excited just yet, with no human trials yet conducted. But the newly discovered molecule holds the greatest potential we've ever seen for curing these terrifying diseases.