Hundreds of antibodies capable of fighting Ebola have been discovered by a team of scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in La Jolla, California. A sample of blood from a survivor of the 2014 Ebola outbreak revealed the largest group of antibodies yet found. This breakthrough could be instrumental in the search for an effective vaccine.
When the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history began in West Africa in March 2014, no vaccine or drug existed for the disease. Since then, 11,316 people worldwide have died from the virus. These latest findings are a huge step towards preventing such a large and fatal outbreak of the disease from ever happening again.
“Our Science paper describes the first in-depth view into the human antibody response to Ebola virus,” team leader Dr. Laura Walker said in a news release from TSRI.
“Within weeks of receiving a blood sample from a survivor of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, we were able to isolate and characterize over 300 monoclonal antibodies that reacted with the Ebola virus surface glycoprotein,” added Walker, a senior scientist at Adimab, LLC and graduate of TSRI’s doctoral program.
The researchers also discovered a weak spot in the structure of the virus. Prior studies at TSRI and other research institutes had revealed similar vulnerabilities. Antibodies have the potential to attack and annihilate the virus at these weak points. However, because it takes a while for the human immune system to produce the correct antibodies to fit each susceptible area, researchers have thus far been working with a very small number of Ebola antibodies.
This recent discovery of such a large number of antibodies will change that. 77 percent of the antibodies isolated could potentially have the ability to attack the virus at one of its vulnerable sites and neutralize the virus. In addition, several antibodies provided protection against Ebola in mouse models.
“These types of antibodies could be developed into different types of antibody cocktails or therapeutics, in addition to advancing vaccine design,” said Dr. Andrew Ward, a study co-author and Associate Professor at TSRI.
If researchers do create an effective Ebola treatment that becomes widely used, the virus could mutate and become resistant to the treatment. With the findings from this study, researchers now have the tools to potentially devise secondary treatments to combat this kind of resistance.
The research team has chosen to reveal the antibodies’ genetic sequences to the scientific community to encourage further investigation and study. There is also hope that the techniques used to reveal the Ebola antibodies will be effective in discovering treatments for other viruses, such as Zika.
Findings from the study were published in the February 18, 2016 edition of Science.
News release, The Scripps Research Institute.
CDC: “2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa”.