On August 8, the World Health Organization declared the West African Ebola epidemic, which has killed about 1,000 people, an international public-health emergency. It called upon member states and private donors to expend greater resources toward finding a cure for the worst Ebola outbreak in history. Currently there is no vaccine or cure.
Significant gains in this field are happening in Israel, where Dr. Leslie Lobel and Dr. Victoria Yavelsky have been working for years to track down all survivors of the Ebola and Marburg viruses in Uganda and take blood samples from them. Both of these Equatorial viruses cause hemorrhagic fever and kill close to 90 percent of victims.
The two scientists are working to isolate monoclonal antibodies that neutralize the virus in their lab at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
With funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and other resources, their lab is now getting ready to test its human monoclonal antibodies in mice.
“We have a five-year plan and I believe we could have proof of concept in three to five years,” Lobel predicts. “If we can prove it in two animal models we can eventually use it in humans.”
Lobel, a 2002 American immigrant educated at Columbia University, notes that the work being done at Ben-Gurion University is essential since there are few studies on survivors of Ebola.
“We’re quite advanced in terms of studying the immune response in survivors in Central Africa to develop a prophylactic and therapeutic,” says Lobel, who travels to Uganda for his work about five times a year.
He and Yavelsky hope to develop a “passive” vaccine that would provide immediate protection against the virus. An “active” vaccine already formulated by the U.S. military, and successfully tested in monkeys, takes about 30 days to be effective.