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Local Researchers Work Toward Cure for Ebola

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TWC News: Local Researchers Work Toward Cure for Ebola
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As the war against the deadly Ebola virus outbreak still rages on in West Africa, researchers around the world are working to find a cure. One team at Albert Einstein College of Medicine is hoping to find a way to slow down the virus' rapid infection rate. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Just as the outbreak was gaining momentum in West Africa, the National Institutes of Health in March awarded a group of researchers from 15 different institutions $28 million to find a cocktail of antibodies to fight the deadly Ebola virus.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Jonathan Lai received two million of the grant to focus on the Sudan strain.

"The Sudan strain can be associated with large outbreaks, including what used to be—before this outbreak—the largest ever outbreak in 2000 of an Ebola virus, but there aren't any antibodies available for it," says Lai.

Many of the antibodies found that may fight Ebola have centered around the Zaire strain, which has claimed the lives of more than 1,100 in this most recent outbreak.

Two aid workers have been recovering in the U.S. with the help of a therapy called ZMapp- that targets that species.

Dr. Lai's lab is also looking to find an antibody or cocktail of antibodies that not only fights the Sudan strain, but all five species of Ebola.

"We think it would be very useful to have a therapy in place where it didn't matter which one [species] it is because it was effective against all of them," Lai says.

In this lab, Dr. Lai and his team first test these potential antibodies on viruses engineered to behave like Ebola.

"If things look promising, then we have to collaborate with somebody who's in one of these high containment facilities to test it against the real Ebola virus," Lai says.

Lai and his colleagues have seen some promising initial results. The antibodies they've discovered work to slow down the infection rate so the body has time to build up its own defenses.

"Our most advanced project—we have antibodies that can protect mice from Sudan Ebola virus challenge, so that's quite good but we have to be quite cautious about how excited we get because we don't quite know how it will go in larger animals," Lai says.

Lai says he hopes the need for funding for this kind of research remains a priority even after the historic West Africa outbreak dies down.

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