Ebola Outbreak Continues to Unfold While Researchers Identify New Vaccine Target for the Virus


While the 2016 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to unfold, researchers have identified the first natural human antibodies against all three major disease-causing ebolaviruses.

The recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has reportedly claimed another life, increasing the death toll to 4. As of the most recent situation report (May 21, 2017) from the World Health Organization (WHO), the overall number of cases is now 37.

The outbreak is currently confined in the Likati Health Zone in the Bas Uele Province of the DRC. According to WHO, the cases have been reported in 5 areas: “Nambwa (which reported 12 cases and three deaths), Muma (four cases and no deaths), Ngayi (16 cases and one death), Azande (three cases and no deaths), and Ngabatala (two cases and no deaths).”

A mobile laboratory from the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (INRB) in Likati “has begun processing samples with 22 samples testing negative by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). To date, of the 5 blood samples analyzed at the national reference laboratory in Kinshasa, 2 were confirmed as Zaire ebolavirus.” Health officials are also continuing to monitor more than 410 individuals who have come into contact with those who are infected.

WHO was notified of the outbreak on May 11, 2017 by the Ministry of Health of the DRC and from there, they went on to notify the world via Twitter:

On 11 May 2017, the Min of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo notified WHO & partners of a lab-confirmed case of #Ebola#DRC

— WHO (@WHO) May 12, 2017

The remote location of the outbreak has made it difficult for officials to efficiently reach those who are infected; still, WHO reports that 7 response committees focused on, “Monitoring, Case management, WASH and biosafety, Laboratory and research, Pyscho-social management, and Logistics and Communication,” are working on a national level.

Although the outbreak poses a low risk at the global level, “due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of the area to major international ports,” there is a moderate level of risk at the regional level, “due to the proximity of international borders and the recent influx of refugees from Central African Republic.” WHO has not advised any travel or trade restrictions with the DRC at this time, but will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation based on information as it become available. Currently, 9 countries are performing entry screening “at airports and ports of entry.” The countries are: Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

In related news, scientists have identified “the first natural human antibodies that can neutralize and protect animals against all three major disease-causing ebolaviruses,” and these findings “could lead to the first broadly effective ebolavirus therapies and vaccines,” according to a recent press release from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The scientists, who represent academia, industry, and government, published their findings in a recent issue of Cell.

By analyzing the 349 distinct monoclonal antibodies isolated from a survivor of the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak, the scientists found that two of the antibodies, “ADI-15878 and ADI-15742, potently neutralized infection by all five known ebolaviruses in tissue culture.” In addition, these two antibodies “were also able to protect animals (mice and ferrets) that had been exposed to a lethal dose of three major agents: Ebola virus, Bundibugyo virus, and Sudan virus.”

The scientists took it a step further and identified the human genes that are the “likely source of the immune cells that produce” ADI-15878 and ADI-15742. With these and other findings the team hopes it will “speed the development of vaccine to prevent ebolavirus infections,” which is welcome news as it seems the virus is not going away any time soon.

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