Thursday, October 02, 2014

Ebola and Melatonin: Could a Common Sleep Aid help fight Ebola?

The growing outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa has focused the world's attention on one of the most deadly infectious diseases known. Rapid depletion of experimental drugs including those used to successfully treat several American patients have clinicians scrambling for something other than supportive care.  

A recent paper describes the possible use of melatonin, a natural hormone that controls the wake-sleep cycle and widely available sleep aid, to counter some of EVD's severe effects on the body.  Because of Melatonin's wide availability and excellent safety profile, a positive effect could be an important weapon in the fight against the outbreak in Africa and a potential addition to the treatment of EVD.  Because Melatonin is classified as a food additive in the US,  it can be purchased over the counter and is relatively inexpensive. Obviously more work needs to be done in clinical trials, which could begin immediately since the human safety phases of a clinical trial can be skipped, because of its widespread use. 

Ebola kills in a particular way that turns the body's immune system on itself.  Ebola virus infection causes a cascade of immuno-inflamatory reactions including the production of reactive molecules that damage the lining of blood vessels and trigger the clotting cascade in the blood. This reaction has similarities to bacterial sepsis.  Several studies have shown a positive effect from Melatonin in preventing both endothelial damage and intravascular coagulation.  The author's of this paper have suggested that because similar mechanisms are at work in Ebola virus infection, Melatonin may be beneficial in treating EVD.

Link to article: 

Ebola virus disease: Potential use of melatonin as a treatment
Dun-Xian Tan, Russel J. Reiter and Lucien C. Manchester
Accepted manuscript online: 27 SEP 2014 01:25AM EST

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