Ebola research at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University could yield vaccine

The Ebola virus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As an outbreak of Ebola spreads in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria, about 1600 cases of the illness have been reported and more than 900 people have died. Meanwhile two infected U.S. citizens have been airlifted back to America, where they have been given an experimental drug called ZMapp.

But while the global community is only now becoming aware of the dangerous disease, Dr. Leslie Lobel, a researcher at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel (BGU), has long been predicting such an outbreak, reports the Times of Israel.

Ebola spreads through direct contact and bodily fluids. The initial symptoms are similar to those of the flu, but in some cases include hemorrhage, which then leads to organ damage. In past outbreaks, Ebola has killed between 60 and 90 percent of those infected.

Dr. Lobel's research uses samples from the rare individuals who survived the disease to isolate and produce molecules in the lab that are naturally produced by the immune system in survivors. These molecules, or antibodies, are then attached to the Ebola virus to inhibit infection.

The study is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and collaborates with the U.S. military and the Uganda Virus Research Institute. This collaboration allows the researcher and his team to get access to appropriate containment labs.

“First of all, high containment labs are very expensive to operate. And second of all, there is the security issue here in the Middle East. Working with Ebola here is just asking for trouble,” Lobel said.

The study is one of only few such studies being conducted with regards to Ebola around the world and could lead to a treatment in as soon as five years, and perhaps even a passive vaccine composed of components mimicking an immune system response. 

“This would be much quicker than the active vaccine that the U.S. military has already produced and shown effective in monkeys,” said Lobel. “An active vaccine takes about a month to take hold.”

Posted on August 7, 2014 .