Potential vaccine for Ebola virus

A vaccine that protects monkeys against Ebola virus has been developed but there's still some way to go before a human version is available.

By | November 30, 2000

A potential vaccine against the Ebola virus has been successful in monkeys, reveals a study published in 30 November Nature.

The Ebola virus kills nine infected people in 10 and causes severe pain, high fever and extensive internal bleeding. Researchers at the US National Institutes of Health in Maryland showed that the monkeys were able to launch an effective immune response against Ebola virus (Nature 2000 408:605-609). Knowledge of this response has helped in designing a vaccine. Gary Nabel and his team developed a vaccine consisting of DNA fragments from Ebola. The presence of these fragments caused the production of viral proteins within the monkey, which in turn stimulated immune cells. A second exposure to a weakened strain of a cold virus, genetically engineered to contain parts of Ebola, ensured a boosted response. Four monkeys were vaccinated and then exposed to huge doses of Ebola. Three of the monkeys showed no sign of infection and one showed Ebola in the bloodstream but this disappeared within a week. More than six months later all four monkeys remained symptom-free whereas four control monkeys died within a week.

The DNA vaccine has also been designed to include elements of all three known Ebola strains, ensuring its effectiveness against all possible outbreaks. Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, welcomed the results: "Ebola is a difficult virus because currently available antiviral drugs have no proven effect on it and we do not know its natural reservoir, making environmental control impossible." He added: "A vaccine is therefore the best hope for protecting humans from infection, and this study makes some key advances."

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