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The race to find a cure for Ebola


08-09-2014 17:55 BJT

Full coverage: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

By CCTV correspondent Yakenda McGahee

The most promising treatment for Ebola could be the Z-mapp serum. It’s the cocktail of antibodies given to the two American aid workers, who contracted the virus in West Africa. The treatment was developed by a Californian company. It had shown promise in animal trials, but until then, it had never been tested on humans.

Tobacco better known for contributing millions of preventable death could also be the plant to save many lives. Specially modified leaves of tobacco may already be saving the lives of two American health care workers infected with the Ebola virus while working in Africa. Both patients now back in the U.S. are receiving an experimental serum produced from tobacco plants. The results have been promising, especially for Doctor Kent Brantly.

"I can tell you I was so heartened to see that man get up and walk out of the ambulance. I thought he’d have to be carried on the stretcher," said, Dr. Erica Ollman Saphire from Scripps Research Institute.

"No ventilator, walking, not bad, we’re excited about that, and my fingers are crossed for a good prognosis," said Dr. William Schaffner, Preventative medicine, Vanderbilt University.

The serum, called Z-Mapp, is manufactured by a San Diego, California-based company, Mapp Biopharmaceutical. It’s been tested on monkeys but had never been given to human patients until now.

Mapp was one of 15 companies awarded 28 million dollars in grants from the U.S. government to create an Ebola serum a cocktail of antibodies that attach to the virus.

The project is led by Scripps Research Institute Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire.

She says to understand how the serum works - you must first understand how the virus infects

"This model is the surface model of Ebola virus. Now this is what the virus uses to attach and infect a human cell, it uses the blue parts to do that. Now the white, which is coiled around the blue, is a piece of protein machinery that’s spring loaded, where during infection it will uncoil and penetrate the human cell to drive the virus in," Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire said.

To drive it out doctors administer the Z-MAPP antibodies.

"And this is going to look like two of the three antibodies in the Z-Mapp cocktail. So these are antibodies. They’re locking that protein machinery together to keep it from uncoiling and entering cells. They’ve neutralized the infection by blocking its machinery," said Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire.

But can Z-Mapp neutralize the worst Ebola outbreak in history The serum is in very limited supply and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s not available for general use.

Saphire says while lab animals have shown dramatic improvement - wider human trials won’t begin until 2015 -- and doctors won’t know the serum’s true capabilities - until then.

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