Friday April 3, 2020

‘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

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: Ebola Epidemic in Congo to be Over Soon

WHO Urges Vigilance as Ebola Epidemic Appears to Near End in DRC

Semida Masika, the last patient being treated for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

By Lisa Schlein

The World Health Organization urges continued vigilance to prevent flareups of the deadly Ebola virus as the epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo moves closer to being officially declared over.

The last Ebola patient was discharged from a treatment center in the northeastern town of Beni in the DRC on Tuesday. If no more cases are confirmed during two incubation periods or 42 days, the WHO will officially declare the Ebola epidemic in the country at an end on April 12.

But WHO Assistant Director-General – Emergency Response Ibrahima Soce-Fall says this is not yet a time of celebration because the outbreak is not over. He said everyone must remain vigilant as the risk of other cases emerging during that period is very high. He said health teams must remain active and ready to respond to a number of complex threats, including those posed by insecurity in conflict-torn North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General Ibrahima-Soce Fall attends a press conference on the WHO Ebola operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

“We know that the focus now is more on the Covid-19, but we need to continue maintaining this capacity and also we still need additional $20 million for WHO to maintain the team on the ground, because we do not want to withdraw the team, because we do not have resources and to have to start from scratch because we have a new flareup,” he said. Soce-Fall said it is very important for the global community not to lose focus on this issue because Ebola is also a matter of global health security.

Since the epidemic erupted Aug. 1, 2018, there have been 3,444 recorded cases and 2,264 deaths. It is the second-deadliest Ebola epidemic after the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, which infected nearly 29,000 people and killed more than 11,000. Soce-Fall told VOA many of the lessons learned in tackling the Ebola epidemic are applicable for the containment of the coronavirus.

“First you need rapid detection, meaning that the surveillance system needs to be strong.  I talked about the number of alerts we have to investigate every day for Ebola. So, this is the same approach you do for coronavirus…You need to identify people who are in contact with cases and to ensure regular follow up.  The same is happening for coronavirus for 14 days.  We have been doing that for 21 days for Ebola,” Soce-Fall said.

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As the 42-day countdown continues, the WHO says the disease will not be declared over until it is sure there are no new infections and that the last reported case of Ebola has tested negative. (VOA)