Sunday December 16, 2018

‘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
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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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The Young Miracle: Baby In Congo Suffering From Ebola Recovers

The latest WHO assessment, released Thursday, simply calls the circumstances "unforgiving."

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Ebola, baby
- In this photograph taken Dec. 3, 2018, and released by UNICEF, an Ebola survivor cares for one-week-old Benedicte who was infected at birth with the Ebola virus by her mother, at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

They call her the “young miracle.” A baby who was admitted to an Ebola treatment center just six days after birth has now recovered from the virus.

Congo’s health ministry calls the baby the youngest survivor in what is now the world’s second-deadliest Ebola outbreak.

The ministry late Thursday tweeted a photo of the infant, swaddled and with her tiny mouth open in yawn or squall, surrounded by caregivers who watched over her 24 hours a day for weeks.

The baby’s mother, who had Ebola, died in childbirth, the ministry said.

The infant was discharged Wednesday from the treatment center in Beni. “She went home in the arms of her father and her aunt,” the ministry said.

 

Ebola, baby
Health workers treat an unconfirmed Ebola patient, inside a MSF (Doctors Without Borders) supported Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nov. 3, 2018. VOA

 

Experts have reported high numbers of children with Ebola in this outbreak, which Congo’s health ministry says has 515 cases, 467 of them confirmed, including 255 confirmed deaths.

 

The tiny survivor is named Benedicte. In video footage shared by UNICEF, she is shown in an isolated treatment area, cradled in the arms of health workers in protective gear or cuddled by Ebola survivors, called “nounous,” who can go without certain gear such as masks. The survivors are crucial with their reassuring presence, the health ministry said.

“This is my first child,” her father, Thomas, said. “I truly don’t want to lose her. She is my hope.” He gazed at his baby daughter through the clear protective plastic.

Infected children

Children now account for more than one-third of all cases in this outbreak, UNICEF said earlier this week. One in 10 Ebola cases is in a child under 5 years old, it said, and children who contract the hemorrhagic fever are at greater risk of dying than adults.

Ebola, Baby
A health care worker carries a cross next to a coffin with a baby suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 13, 2018. VOA

While Ebola typically infects adults, as they are most likely to be exposed to the lethal virus, children have been known in some instances to catch the disease when they act as caregivers.

Few cases of Ebola in babies have historically been reported, but experts suspect transmission might happen via breast milk or close contact with infected parents. Ebola is typically spread by infected bodily fluids.

The World Health Organization also has noted that health centers have been identified as a source of Ebola transmission in this outbreak, with injections of medications “a notable cause.”

Dangerous conditions

So far, more than 400 children have been left orphaned or unaccompanied in this outbreak as patients can spend weeks in treatment centers, UNICEF said. A kindergarten has opened next to one treatment center in Beni “to assist the youngest children whose parents are isolated” there, it said.

Congo, Ebola, Women, Baby
Marie-Roseline Darnycka Belizaire, World Health Organization (WHO) Epidemiology Team Lead, talks to women as part of Ebola contact tracing, in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

Health experts have said this Ebola outbreak, the 10th in Congo, is like no other as they face the threat of attack from armed groups and resistance from a wary population in a region that had never faced an Ebola outbreak before. Tracking suspected contacts of Ebola victims remains a challenge in areas controlled by rebels.

Also Read: Women Hit Especially Hard In Congo’s Worst Ebola Outbreak

The latest WHO assessment, released Thursday, simply calls the circumstances “unforgiving.”

And now, Congo is set to hold a presidential election Dec. 23, with unrest already brewing. (VOA)