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Indian scientist part of global team develop Ebola therapy

world Updated: Aug 31, 2014 01:15 IST
Vanita Srivastava

A team of international researchers, including an Indian scientist, has developed a potential antibody therapy for Sudan ebolavirus (SUDV), one of the two most lethal strains of Ebola.

A different strain, the Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV), is now devastating West Africa. First identified in 1976, SUDV has caused numerous Ebola outbreaks (most recently in 2012) that have killed more than 400 people in total.

The findings were reported recently in ACS Chemical Biology.

Between 30 and 90% of people infected with Ebola die after experiencing symptoms of the disease that include fever, muscle aches, vomiting and bleeding.

"These antibodies represent strong immunotherapeutic candidates for the treatment of SUDV infection," said Sachdev Sidhu from University of Toronto, one of the authors of the study.

The researchers used a commonly used human antibody as a scaffold onto which they placed the Ebola - specific portion of the mouse antibody to minimize the potential risk of human immune response against mouse antibody.

They then made variants of the resulting molecule by subtly changing its structure in different ways using a process called “synthetic antibody engineering”. Two of these variants proved able to fend off SUDV in specially bred mice.

“While our antibodies show promise for treatment of SUDV infection, they wouldn’t work against the EBOV outbreak now underway in West Africa,” said Jonathan Lai, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry at Einstein and co-corresponding author of the paper. “That’s because antibodies that kill off one strain, or species, of Ebola haven’t proven effective against other strains.”

This research, however, isn’t expected to help with the current ebola outbreak that, as of mid-August, has killed at least 1,200 people. That’s because antibodies that kill off one strain of the virus haven’t worked against other strains.

The US Food and Drug Administration — which has not yet approved any ebola therapies — did allow two US aid workers infected during the current outbreak to be treated with an experimental drug, which is a cocktail of antibodies specifically targeting EBOV.