Much of the hype about Ebola may have died down, but researchers have not stopped studying the virus and have discovered a new set of antibodies from the blood of a survivor from the 2014 outbreak.
In a study published in the journal Science, researchers detailed how they isolated antibodies in a blood sample from an outbreak survivor, a discovery that could steer the development of therapeutics or vaccines against the Ebola virus. They also found a vulnerable site in the virus' structure that was previously unknown.
According to Laura Walker, the study's team leader, they were able to separate and characterize more than 300 monoclonal antibodies that reacted with the glycoprotein present in the virus' surface.
Earlier studies carried out by the Scripps Research Institute and other groups have shown that there are several weak points in the virus' structure that antibodies can exploit to neutralize Ebola. However, the human body's immune system requires a significant period of trial and error to come up with the right antibodies. As such, the researchers were relegated to studying only a small range of techniques against the virus.
Despite the limitations, however, researchers were able to develop antibody cocktails designed to zero in on several weak points at the same time. One of these cocktails is ZMapp from Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which was successfully used in trials involving primates and experimental human treatment in 2014.
After the antibodies were isolated, the researchers thoroughly assessed their therapeutic potential using antigens, or molecules capable of "fishing out" antibodies within a blood serum.
Based on their findings, 77 percent of the over 300 antibodies they found had the potential to neutralize the Ebola virus.
Because the researchers worked on human antibodies, they may be able to more easily and quickly design treatments using the discovery. Additionally, secondary treatments may also be devised using the new antibodies in case the virus mutates and escapes other treatments.
To promote further studies, the researchers made the genetic sequences of the new antibodies available to others in the scientific community. While their work is focused on the Ebola virus, they believe their work may contribute to developing treatments for other diseases, like the Zika virus.
"With other outbreaks, we could take blood samples from the first wave of survivors and potentially produce a therapeutic rapidly. That's the long-term goal," said Zachary Bornholdt, the study's first author.
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