On the heels of concerns about a new Ebola outbreak in Africa, scientists say they’ve discovered the first human antibodies effective against all major Ebola viruses.
The findings could lead to the first effective treatments and vaccines, according to the team of academic, industry and government researchers.
Analysis of the blood of a survivor of the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in Western Africa led to the discovery. That epidemic caused more than 11,000 deaths and infected more than 29,000 people, the study authors noted.
The race to find effective strategies against Ebola has suddenly become more urgent. In recent weeks, the World Health Organization has reported an Ebola outbreak in a remote area of Democratic Republic of Congo. The hemorrhagic disease has killed three there since April 22, and up to 20 cases are suspected, according to news reports. Hundreds more people are being monitored for signs of infection.
The two natural human antibodies the researchers discovered can neutralize and protect animals against all three major disease-causing Ebola viruses, according to the new study.
The most advanced therapy to date — ZMapp — works for Ebola virus, but not two related viruses (Sudan virus and Bundibugyo virus) that have also caused major outbreaks, the investigators noted.
“Since it’s impossible to predict which of these agents will cause the next epidemic, it would be ideal to develop a single therapy that could treat or prevent infection caused by any known ebolavirus,” said study co-leader Zachary Bornholdt, director of antibody discovery at Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc.
Study co-author Kartik Chandran added: “Our discovery and characterization of broadly neutralizing human antibodies is an important step toward that goal.” Chandran is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
The team also identified the human genes that are the likely source of the immune cells that produce the two antibodies.
These and other findings could help speed the development of vaccines to prevent Ebola infection, the researchers said in an Einstein College news release.
The report was published online May 18 in the journal Cell.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on Ebola.