Using blood samples from an Ebola survivor and a technique that isolates immune cells, researchers may have found a way to fight the deadly virus.
In the new study – published Thursday (Feb. 18) in the journal Science – the researchers took antibodies from an Ebola patient and isolated the groups of antibodies that appeared to be the most efficient in combating the virus. Then, they used the antibodies to treat mice that were infected Ebola.
Laura Walker, a co-author of the study and a senior scientist at Adimab, a biopharmaceutical company in Lebanon, New Hampshire, said that when she and her colleagues used the antibodies in mice, they were able to prevent the virus from infecting cells.
To fight viral infections, immune systems in humans generate antibodies against the viruses that manage to enter the body. The antibodies can signal immune system cells to engulf the viruses, flag viruses as invaders, and can also prevent viruses from harming cells, by latching onto the outside of a virus.
According to the researchers, the antibodies in the blood may work to fight only one virus, or several viruses that are closely related. However, they cannot combat all viruses. Scientists usually isolate the antibodies from the blood when they want to find out which of them work against a certain virus.
The team of researchers at Adimab used a new technique to get the antibodies. Researchers isolated the B cells (also known as B lymphocytes) – which are known to produce antibodies – while they were secreting the antibodies. That way they were also able to find out which antibodies stick to what part of the Ebola virus.
Walker said that the team identified more than three hundred antibodies, but only ten of them were effective in combating the virus. To see how well each antibody worked on mice that were infected with the virus, the research hers teamed up with scientists at several other laboratories.
The results showed that when the mice were injected with a certain antibody, their survival rate was one hundred percent. However, when they injected the mice with another antibody, they showed much lower survival rates, Walker explained.
Johan van Griensven, an infectious disease researcher at the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Belgium, stated that the isolation of the antibodies is what made the treatment work a lot better, compared with previous experiments. The new findings may help researchers find a cure for Ebola, van Griensven added.
Previously, doctors used blood plasma from Ebola survivors to try and treat other patients, but that method was not as successful. Because they had no time, and needed to act quickly, they were not able to isolate specific antibodies at first, according to van Griensven.
Miles Carroll, a public health researcher with the United Kingdom government who has extensively studied Ebola, said that the new findings may help find more effective combinations of antibodies for treatments. Several Ebola viruses are already being tested in human trials, according to Carroll.
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