Friday May 24, 2019

‘Trojan Horse’ Antibody Strategy Shows Promise Against Ebola Virus

Monoclonal antibodies, which bind to and neutralize specific pathogens and toxins, have emerged as the most promising treatments for Ebola

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FILE - A health worker, center, takes the temperature of people to see if they might be infected by the Ebola virus inside the Ignace Deen government hospital in Conakry, Guinea, March 18, 2016. VOA

Scientists have found a hidden weak spot shared by all five known types of the deadly Ebola virus and successfully targeted it with two antibodies that blocked its ability to invade human cells.

In early-stage laboratory experiments published in the journal Science, the researchers developed a “Trojan horse” strategy that allows engineered antibodies to hitch a ride on Ebola to where the virus is most vulnerable before hitting it.

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“The success in co-opting the virus itself to dispatch a lethal weapon … marks a turning point in the development of smart therapeutics against infectious diseases,” said M. Javad Aman, a scientist, and president at the U.S. biotech firm Integrated Bio Therapeutics who worked on the team.

Although years of testing lie ahead before any fully approved treatment might be developed for Ebola patients, Aman said similar strategies could also be devised against several other viral and bacterial pathogens.

No approved treatments

Ebola is an extremely deadly and contagious disease for which there are currently no regulator-approved vaccines or treatments. A vast outbreak of the Zaire strain of the virus, which causes haemorrhagic fever, killed more than 11,000 people and infected around 29,000 in West Africa in 2014-15.

Monoclonal antibodies, which bind to and neutralize specific pathogens and toxins, have emerged as the most promising treatments for Ebola. But a critical problem is that most antibody therapies — including the most promising experimental therapy, ZMapp — target only one specific Ebola virus.

Ebola Virus. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Ebola Virus. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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In this work, the research team found a way around this by targeting a weak spot — in the so-called lysosome of the cell — to where antibodies could hitch a ride on Ebola and deliver a punch that blocked the virus’ exit and ability to replicate.

The strategy could eventually be developed for use in a range of other viruses, the scientists said, including cousins of Ebola such as Marburg, and other viral diseases such as dengue or Lassa.

“It’s impossible to predict where the next Ebola virus outbreak will occur or which virus will cause it,” said Jon Lai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who co-led the work. “We hope that further testing in nonhuman primates will establish our antibodies as safe and effective for treating those exposed to any Ebola virus.”(VOA)

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WHO to Strengthen Strategies to Combat Ebola Epidemic in Congo

The WHO's latest report counted 1,738 cases of Ebola in Congo, including 1,218 deaths

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FILE - A priest watches as health workers dressed in Ebola protective suits prepare the body of an Ebola patient for burial at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, March 26, 2019. VOA

A panel of World Health Organization experts says strategies must be strengthened to combat the worsening Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The WHO’s latest report counted 1,738 cases of Ebola in Congo, including 1,218 deaths.

Congo’s minister of health, Oly Ilungo, likened the Ebola epidemic to a multi-headed dragon. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the epidemic began in one place, Mangina, but keeps popping up elsewhere.

“Our response, therefore, needs to continually adapt itself to the situation,” said Ilungo. “We need to continually adapt and change our strategy bearing in mind lessons learned.”

He said prevention measures, surveillance, the tracing of infected people, timely treatment and safe burial practices must be maintained. At the same time, he said old tools need to be refreshed and improved.

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FILE – Victorine Siherya, an Ebola survivor working as a caregiver to babies who are confirmed Ebola cases, holds an infant outside the red zone at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 25, 2019. VOA

He proposed setting up a data-driven system, which compiles all the information produced in the response effort.

“Increasingly, it manages to carry out analyses that allow us to get ahead of the problem and we can identify the danger areas where there might be a greater risk of the virus spreading and we can get ahead of the problem,” he added.

The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, finds the increasing number of new Ebola cases extremely worrying and challenging. She warned the risk of the disease spreading beyond Congo’s borders is very high.

She said the DRC’s nine neighboring countries are aware of the dangers and, with the help of the WHO, have taken many steps to prepare for that possibility.

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An Ebola health worker is seen at a treatment center in Beni, Eastern Congo, April, 16, 2019. The World Health Organization is warning it may not be possible to contain Ebola to the two affected provinces in eastern Congo if violent attacks on health teams continue. VOA

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“We have 16 Ebola-treatment centers and units having been established across the nine countries,” she said. “And, in addition over 4,500 health workers have been trained to be able to detect and manage these cases.The countries have continued to engage with communities to raise their awareness in all high-risk areas.”

WHO officials are appealing for intensified international political engagement and financial support to combat Ebola. They warn the further spread of the dangerous disease would have serious social and economic regional implications and would trigger an even greater crisis. (VOA)