Blood from Ebola survivors could help spur new disease treatments

Updated: 2015-02-04 15:22


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Blood from Ebola survivors could help spur new disease treatments

A health worker injects a woman with an Ebola vaccine during a trial in Monrovia, February 2, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

CHICAGO - After successfully treating four Ebola patients last year, Emory University in Atlanta is now leading a government-funded project that will use blood from survivors of the deadly virus to test a novel way of treating infectious disease.

Traditional vaccines boost the immune system's response to infections. The new project will inject people with genetic material, such as DNA or RNA, in hopes of spurring a person's own cells to make specific antibodies capable of fighting Ebola or other pathogens.

"The person's body is the factory," said Dr. James Crowe of Vanderbilt University, one of the collaborators on the project. "It's a cool idea."

Experts say the method, if proven to be safe and effective, would be faster and cheaper than conventional drug production and could potentially be used to treat illnesses such as seasonal flu or malaria.

Antibodies are typically grown in large vats of mammal cells or in some cases, tobacco plants, such as Mapp Biopharmaceutical's experimental Ebola treatment ZMapp.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon's elite research arm, has awarded Emory up to $10.8 million over three years to direct the project.

It will include research teams at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), and several academic research labs including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rockefeller University, Vanderbilt and Scripps Research Institute.

Getting access to blood samples from survivors of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been challenging, but Emory has a distinct advantage in having treated a small number of patients on US soil.

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