A new Ebola vaccine was tested on humans after a successful trial on monkeys, the results of which were published in the Nature Medicine journal last week.
The vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Swiss biotechnology company Okairos, works by injecting genetic fragments of Ebola into healthy cells. Though this may sound dangerous, the genetic fragments have been altered so that the reproduction mechanism in a normal Ebola virion is shut down. According to the NIH, the genes simply lead to the production of a protein, which triggers a response from the immune system.
According to researchers, the trial conducted on monkeys was a success, and the monkeys were protected from the Ebola virus for up to 10 months. No other attempt at the vaccine has been this successful.
The human trials will be conducted on healthy adults at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Twenty volunteers will be injected with the vaccine in the first round of the trial. If all goes well, some results will be obtained by the end of 2014.
In the meantime, Ebola continues to rage in West Africa, particularly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As of Sept. 10, 4,846 cases and 2,375 deaths have been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), putting the current death rate at about 50 percent.
Because the virus is spread by bodily fluids, there is widespread concern for doctors and people working with those who are infected. The lack of a “tried and true” vaccine makes the virus a global concern as there is currently no approved way to stop the spread of the disease.
In fact, Sierra Leone has called for a nationwide lockdown from Sept. 19 through Sept. 21. As people stay in their homes, health workers can quarantine new cases without fearing that the disease will be spreading faster than they can find it.
Unfortunately, Sierra Leone does not have the law enforcement capacity to ensure that the country’s six million inhabitants will stay home for the three-day lockdown, so it is expected to be fairly voluntary.
Assuming the initial trials go well, the vaccine may be released to the most desperate countries even in the experimental form. Though this is not ideal because of possible side effects, most people agree that this is a necessary step given the high death rate of the virus.
Groups like WHO are calling for this “fast-track” plan to effectively contain the imminent threat of the Ebola virus. According to NPR, other possible therapies and vaccines are being considered, including the use of blood from those who have survived the virus to trigger an immune response similar to the one created by the vaccine.
With so much research being done to contain and eventually end the Ebola epidemic, hope for West African countries and the rest of the world is beginning to emerge.