$28M grant to fund Ebola virus research

The National Institutes of Health awarded $28 million Thursday to a consortium led by The Scripps Research Institute to develop a treatment for the deadly Ebola virus.

The goal is to come up with a combination of antibodies that can fight the virus, which spreads via blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. The disease has mostly been found in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent years, according to TSRI.

Scripps professor Erica Ollmann Saphire will lead a team that includes researchers from U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Tulane University, University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Uganda Virus Research Institute, among others.

"It's a global collaboration," Saphire said. "Everyone in the field got on the same page to collaborate on a set of definitive experiments."

TSRI will get $2.5 million to lead the study against the virus, which causes Ebola hemorrhagic fever. It's believed that people catch the virus through contact with infected animals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers at the Army facility found two years ago that a mix of antibodies -- sometimes called a cocktail -- could stop the virus. Other labs around the world had similar success, and now researchers want to learn which combinations work best, TSRI reported.

Saphire's team will use a technique called X-ray crystallography to study the structure of the antibodies and how they bind to the virus.

"The structures will provide an essential map for understanding how these antibodies work," Saphire said. "If we understood why some are more effective than others, and which groupings gave better synergy, we could put together a better cocktail."

TSRI assistant professor Andrew Ward will use electron microscopy, a different technique for studying molecular structures, while professor Dennis Burton will contribute antibodies.

The grant will also fund studies into fighting other hemorrhagic fever diseases, such as the Marburg, Sudan and Lassa viruses.
 

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