Attacking the Ebola virus

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976, but all the way up until 2013, there were only about 1,700 cases.

In just this recent outbreak over 14,000 suspected cases have been reported.

Now scientists are ramping up their research to find a cure for a previously rare virus.

The heartbreaking images are motivating scientists to find a cure.

Men, woman and children, as many as 1.4 million, could be infected if nothing is done to help.

While researchers have been working for decades to find a cure for Ebola, no one could have predicted the severity of the current West African Outbreak.

“We had developed the vaccine. The treatments had been developed. All that knowledge and research was there. What hadn’t been done was the really expensive clinical trials that can be tens of millions of dollars, and years to do because most years Ebola is too rare, too exotic,” said Dr. Saphire.

At Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire’s lab at Scripps Research Institute, scientists are identifying weak spots in the Ebola Virus, and it is those areas that are targeted by the antibodies in ZMapp.

ZMapp is the experimental drug cocktail developed by San Diego-based ZMapp Biopharmaceutical.

Five out of the seven patients treated with ZMapp survived, but doctors can’t say for certain ZMapp was the reason.

The drug is scheduled for clinical trials in early 2015, giving researchers little time to develop an even better drug.

Dr. Saphire now leads a global consortium testing antibodies from around the world.

“All those researchers met last week in La Jolla to compare our data, and it looks like we’re starting to agree and get some answers as to what works against the Ebola virus and why,” said Dr. Saphire.

It looks as though they have found a chink in the armor of the Ebola virus. Researchers found that two of the ZMapp antibodies bind near the base of the virus, appearing to prevent it from infecting other cells.

A third antibody appears to call the body’s immune system to the site of infection.

“So the reason this cocktail works is because you’re attacking the virus in different ways,” said Dr. Saphire.

Dr. Saphire’s job is to map the virus, create a picture, so antibodies know exactly where to hit. The challenge is, the virus mutates and the target changes.

As the outbreak grows, another San Diego company, Aethlon Medical is working to stop Ebola in a different way.

It’s device is called the Hemopurifier, and it is used much like a filter hooked up to a dialysis machine.

A patient being treated with the Hemopurifier in Germany had multiple organ failures, but five days later, the virus was no longer detectable.

The patient was treated with multiple therapies, making it hard to determine exactly what was responsible for his recovery, but the Hemopurifier did leave evidence behind, in numbers.

Next month, the Hemopurifier will head to an FDA approved study of this technology in the United States.

The innovation is certainly happening, and now the money is being put behind these therapies to get them into clinical trials quickly.

Dr. Saphire hopes, once approved, vaccines could be leveraged to the people that need them, beginning with the healthcare workers on the front lines in West Africa.

The developed antibody doses would treat people that nonetheless do become infected.

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