The Race to find an Ebola Vaccine

The West Africa Ebola Epidemic of 2014 was the most widespread outbreak in the disease’s history. While Today doctors are better equipped at containing the spread of this Virus, there is a lot more work to be done in order to prevent future epidemics.  We visit the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas where scientists are tirelessly working to find a vaccine for this deadly disease.

TRANSCRIPT

The West Africa Ebola epidemic of 2014 was the most widespread outbreak in the disease's history.

While today doctors are better equipped at containing the spread of this virus, there's a lot more work to be done in order to prevent future epidemics.

In this segment, we visit the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, where scientists are tirelessly working to find a vaccine for this deadly disease.

Just last week, an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo entered a new dangerous phase as it spread to the regional capital of Mbandaka, a city of nearly 1.2 million people.

Some world health experts fear a repeat of the devastating West African Ebola outbreak that killed over 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016.

The Ebola virus is endemic in Africa, and since 1976, the first outbreak, we've probably had about 20 to 30 outbreaks.

They're relatively small outbreaks affecting less than a couple hundred people.

However, recently, as recent as the 2014 outbreak, we had the largest outbreak of all time, infecting close to 30,000 people.

So it was the largest outbreak of Ebola virus on record, and with a case fatality of about 50%. Up until then, case fatality for Ebola virus would be about 90%, so 9 out of 10 people that would come down with the disease would end up dying.

Ebola is a rare and deadly disease mainly affecting Sub-Saharan Africa.

It is spread through direct contact with an infected animal or a sick or dead person infected with the Ebola virus.

It's a blood-borne pathogen, and what we found from the '013-'014 outbreak is that it can persist in humans that survive.

Dr. Jean Patterson is a Texas biomed scientist and chair of the Biosafety Level-4 Task Force.

We used to think that it was primarily lethal and that those that survived were fine.

But in fact what we find is that it can survive in eyes, so people develop Ebola blindness, and that's in large part because we didn't have that many survivors that we could find these more rare occurrences.

Thus far, there is no approved vaccine for Ebola, but the race to develop a vaccine is on at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio.

Texas Biomed is conducting research for Mapp Biopharmaceutical, makers of an experimental Ebola drug called ZMapp.

We teamed with a company, Mapp Bio, that has a therapeutic, a candidate treatment for Ebola virus.

It's an antibody-based treatment.

Dr. Ricardo Carrion Jr. is an associate scientist and associate director of the Biosafety Level-4 Laboratory at Texas Biomed.

When a virus infects a human cell, it usually tags on to a receptor and then is engulfed into the cell, and it replicates and creates more viruses.

And what this antibody does is it targets either the virus or a receptor to prevent that virus from entering.

And by preventing it from entering, it gives time for you to clear the virus through this therapeutic, or our own body can respond and clear the virus to reduce the chances of coming down with full-blown Ebola virus disease.

If approved, ZMapp could become part of the strategic national stockpile as a countermeasure for public health emergencies.

Because Ebola is such a deadly pathogen, it is studied in this biosafety level-4 laboratory at Texas Biomed.

Well, they're wearing a pressurized space suit.

It's essentially like being in 'A Space Odyssey.'

You have a life-support system, which provides your air and your breathing.

And that protects you from the environment within the laboratory.

You assume everything at L safety level 4 is contaminated -- the surfaces, the walls, et cetera -- so you have to protect yourself from every aspect of the laboratory itself.

So there's negative pressure in the lab, so nothing can come in.

And then within the pressure suit, you're positive, so nothing can get into you, either.

So you stay positive to the air.

So if you were to get a glove tear, the virus wouldn't necessarily go through the tear.

It would be pushing out because the air is positive within the suit.

So the doors are very important.

The doors are submarine doors.

And when you're entering the laboratory, there are two doors.

When you open this door, this door remains closed.

Then when you shut this door, then you can go into this door.

So that means that there's no breach of air between the outside of the lab and the inside of the lab.

The United States... Viruses don't know borders.

And in 2014 during the outbreak, we had a patient that came from Africa, was placed in a Dallas hospital, and he ended up succumbing to the disease, and two nurses became infected touching some of his sample.

So it is a concern to the United States.

However, we hope this therapeutic can be available to treat individuals that might be infected.

Well, we're going to continue this research in hopes that whenever there's an emerging virus or any pathogen that we can jump in and take care of it immediately.

We have the capability working with any serious pathogen, with any animal model, and I think that we're in a place that we could be ready and able to affect any emerging disease that occurs.

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