A multi-institute research team, including scientists from MassBiologics at the University of Massachusetts, may have found the key to successfully treating and vaccinating against one of this decade's most famously lethal diseases: Ebola.
In 2014, the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa took news headlines by storm with its shocking death toll and mysterious reappearing quality in "survivors". Over 11,000 people have died from this most recent outbreak due to a 50-70% fatality rate, with nearly 30,000 infected between the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Currently, there are no FDA-approved vaccines or medicines effective for treating Ebola.
In search of answers, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have been analyzing antibodies of interest from a 2014 Ebola outbreak survivor from West Africa. This study, published in the journal Science, has identified a promising vulnerability to the virus which may lead to the design of new treatments for infected individuals.
Certain antibodies in the survivor's body showed some capability of neutralizing Ebola, with some of the antibodies being especially effective at fighting the virus. The key to the Ebola virus' weakness is the Ebola glycoprotein; the only protein expressed on its surface. Once the infected individual's antibodies develop the ability to block this glycoprotein's attachment to host cell membranes, the virus becomes unable to enter healthy cells and is essentially neutralized.
As Dr. Klempner, the Executive Vice Chancellor for MassBiologics and Professor of Medicine notes, taking advantage of the body's natural fighting ability is often the best route for tackling such a deadly disease.
“This study represents an excellent example of translating nature’s response to a deadly infection into guidance on how to develop a preventive vaccine or treatment ... By rapidly dissecting nature’s immune response to Ebola infection in an individual who recovered, we have been provided key insights into how to design a vaccine to prevent infection and information about the specific types of antibodies that could be used to treat patients with Ebola infection.”
The implications of this discovery could be monumental to the strategy against Ebola now and during future outbreaks.
This ongoing study is just one of the many pioneering research endeavors being undertaken by research teams at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The University received $19 million in 2015 from the National Institutes of Health and had a total Life Science R&D expenditures total of nearly $70 million in 2014. UMass is also currently undergoing a massive five-year, $1.4 billion construction and renovation project on its campus featuring a recently opened $160 million Life Science Laboratories Building.
For more news on the state-of-the-art research and new innovations at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, see the below articles previously featured on Science Market Update:
If you are a lab equipment or chemical supply company interested in marketing to researchers at this highly active campus, consider attending Biotechnology Calendar, Inc.'s Amherst BioResearch Product Faire™ Event on July 13, 2016.