Beating Ebola with the Blood of Survivors

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed over 11,300 people, infected 28,000, and would eventually spread to nine countries. In the disease’s wake, thousands of orphaned children have been placed with new families while many who worked the front lines now face chilling psychological effects in countries with limited mental health resources. But in the scientific community there is hope. The virus’ impact has paved the way for new discoveries that are laying a foundation for future vaccines and therapies.

Ebola is particularly deadly because it disrupts the human immune system’s response to infection and attacks nearly every organ in the body. Since the outbreak, scientists have searched for Ebola-resistant antibodies in order to create a vaccine. A huge breakthrough began in February of last year when researcher Laura Walker, a senior scientist at Adimab in Lebanon, New Hampshire received 1.7 fluid ounces of blood from an Ebola survivor. She hoped the blood would contain antibodies that helped the survivor combat the brutal virus. But what Walker and her team discovered was much more than they imagined. The blood contained nearly 350 antibodies of interest – the largest concentration of anti-Ebola antibodies ever found.

Ebola 1

In just six weeks, Walker was able to generate a library of antibodies and Adimab put the sequences in public domain so other researchers could benefit from their work without being charged a license fee. Soon after, Walker and her team began injecting lab mice with the Ebola virus and then with antibodies to see which ones were effective. Some of the antibodies were 100 percent successful in protecting mice that were exposed to Ebola. This was a huge improvement over Zmapp, the current leader in anti-Ebola antibodies which is 40 percent effective. “Over the past decade, our laboratory has analyzed over one hundred antibodies against the Ebola virus,” says Pamela Glass, a senior investigator at a U.S. military research group focused on Ebola. “Several of the antibodies provided by Dr. Walker’s team display the most potent neutralization and protection we have ever seen.”

If it is indeed found that a genetic mutation helped Ebola survivors create antibodies that rendered them immune to the disease, it wouldn’t be the first time in history. These days, about 10 percent of Europe’s population has a genetic mutation that provides resistance to HIV infections. Researchers believe the abnormality which prevents the virus from entering the immune system may have been a survival trait during the smallpox and black death outbreaks centuries ago. Similarly, sickle cell anemia, a deadly blood disorder, is found frequently in people of African ancestry because the trait protected people from malaria. Although thousands of lives were lost in the Ebola epidemic, its survivors may help scientists discover treatments that can prevent it from happening again.

Related Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -