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Ebola vaccine may be on the horizon

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Arizona University researchers have made an Ebola vaccine that works in mice.

An Ebola vaccine has been developed that improves survival in mice. The killer virus is fatal in 90 percent of cases. Concerns have been raised that the the air-borne Ebola virus would be used in a terrorist attack.

Ebola is also transmitted through body fluids. Death ultimately occurs from multi-system organ failure and hemorrhage.

Charles Arntzen, a researcher at the Biodesign Institute® at Arizona State University and colleague are using tobacco plants to make the Ebola vaccine.

The scientists created a DNA blueprint of the virus to inject into tobacco leaves with the help of a specialized bacterium.

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"The blueprint converts each leaf cell into a miniature manufacturing unit," Arntzen says.

To make the blueprint, the researchers used a surface protein (known as GP1) from the Ebola virus and a customized monoclonal antibody that binds to GP1. The binding then forms something called Ebola Immune Complex (EIC). Arntzen explains the immune system can easily recognized EIC to mount a defense against the virus.

Mice vaccinated with the finished product had a strong immune response, with an 80 percent survival rate. It takes two weeks for the tobacco plant to accumulate purified EIC.

The idea is to stockpile the vaccine in case of a bio-terrorism attack or naturally occurring outbreak. The Ebola vaccine wouldn’t be used prophylactically like the flu vaccine.

The finding, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, showed mice that were infected with the Ebola virus were only able to survive the infection when EIC was given with a toll-like receptor (TLR) agonist known as PIC, instead of the usual aluminum hydroxide used in other vaccines.

If the vaccine for Ebola works in humans, it would also be inexpensive because of the manufacturing process that uses tobacco, stable – meaning it would last for years after stockpiling - and safer for humans because the Ebola vaccine created by the researchers doesn’t use a live virus that mandates careful storage.