Biodefense Research Guards Against Virus More Deadly, Untreatable Than Ebola
Deadly, virulent viruses have jumped species from nonhuman primates such as chimpanzees to the human species three times in history: the SIV virus that almost certainly led to the worldwide AIDS pandemic, the SV-40 “cancer” virus that was accidentally included in polio vaccines in the 1950s, and the deadly Ebola virus.
Now, in a scenario that sounds more like science fiction than reality, biodefense researchers are quietly looking at the remote possibility some day of a fourth instance of species jump: simian hemorrhagic fever virus, which is either more deadly and untreatable than Ebola, or the key to unlocking cures for such species-jumping viruses.
Research on SHFV could either put the lid back on Pandora’s box, or open it even wider.
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This sort of research is one of the reasons that regulatory agencies monitor scientific advances in the transfer of human genetic materials from nonhuman species to human beings. This sort of work could, some believe, lead to instances where a deadly, untreatable virus “jumps species” before we’re able to understand the ramifications.
The truth is that mankind is on the cusp of a new genetic era. We’ve mapped the human genome, as well as the genome of the bonobo, our closest relative. Xenotransplantation, the ability to replace an organ such as a kidney in a human with one from an animal, is just over the horizon.