An Ebola survivor may play a vital role in curing other patients of the highly-fatal disease, through donating blood. Proteins in the blood of Ebola survivors might be used to develop new treatments for patients.
Rick Sacra is a physician at the University of Massachusetts who contracted Ebola while treating victims in Liberia, but beat the disease after treatment in the United States. The doctor agreed to donate blood to research aimed at developing new medicines to battle Ebola.
James Crowe of Vanderbilt University has spent months searching for a sample of blood from a patient who survived the disease. Now, thanks to the donation from Sacra, the researcher has the raw material he needs to – hopefully – develop a new class of drugs.
“They can take antibodies they find in my blood and map them out. They are looking for the ones that are most important in neutralizing the virus,” Sacra said.
Ebola has broken out before in west Africa, but this is the most deadly outbreak ever, resulting in the deaths of nearly 7,000 people.
Sacra is a medical missionary for Christian group SIM USA. He will be returning to Liberia on January 15, 2015, but will not continue his work fighting the epidemic. The doctor will be treating patients for high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as providing maternity and pediatric care at the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia.
“This demonstrates how Rick has such a heart for serving others and using his skills to treat those suffering from various conditions. We’re so thankful for his successful treatment and recovery from Ebola. He has spent nearly 20 years serving patients in Liberia, and now he’s ready to get back to work doing the things he’s trained and gifted to perform,” Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, said.
Mapp Biopharmaceutical is developing a drug treatment called ZMapp, which is a compound of three antibodies which have each been shown to be effective in treating Ebola infections. Research is proceeding under a grant funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). By studying human antibodies from Ebola survivors, Crowe and Mapp hope to be able to tailor ZMapp so that it can target all strains of Ebola. Success could lead to the development of a new generation of drugs capable of crippling progression of the disease.
White blood cells called B cells form antibodies which battle infections. Genes from these specialized cells will be examined in the development of the new drug. Antibodies for ZMapp are developed inside tobacco plants, a process too slow for widespread production. Researchers plan to use cells from mammals in future development.