Scientists have announced the creation of an aerosolized vaccine capable of fully protecting rhesus macaques, a species of monkey commonly used in Ebola research, against the most deadly strain of Ebola virus.
If the finding is confirmed in human trials, the vaccine could be a major boon to rural areas because you don’t have to be a healthcare professional to administer the dose, said lead author Michelle Meyer, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
“A needle-free, inhalable vaccine against Ebola presents certain advantages,” said Meyer in a statement about the research. “Immunization will not require trained medical personnel.”
Virologist Alex Bukreyev and senior author of the paper added that an aerosolized vaccine would be useful in countries with no healthcare infrastructure, or in chaotic contexts like communities under siege of war.
To create the vaccine, scientists used a parainfluenza virus to carry Ebola’s genetic material. Once the vaccine entered the macaques’ bodies, it triggered a strong immune response, as measured in the level of antibodies in blood serum and the count of certain immune cells in the blood and lungs.
To see whether the vaccine worked, scientists then exposed the macaques to live Ebola virus to see if they would become infected. None of them became severely ill, and they all survived. In humans, the average fatality rate for Ebola is about 50 percent, according to the World Health Organization, while the mortality rate for rhesus macaques used in Ebola research is greater than 95 percent.
The findings about this aerosolized vaccine, created by researchers at UTMB, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute For Infectious Diseases, were published Monday in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. This is the only aerosolized vaccine that has ever been developed and tested for Ebola or any other viral hemorrhagic fever, and will advance to phase 1 clinical trials (i.e. human subjects) run by the National Institutes of Health, once approved.
When Ebola hit West Africa in 2014, critics all over the world lamented the lack of a vaccine or cure for the virus, despite the fact that the disease was discovered almost 40 years ago. But because of the ferocity of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which has killed 11,268 and counting, the U.S. approved $5.4 billion, in part to jumpstart research on potential cures and vaccines.
In addition to this aerosolized vaccine, there are ongoing human trials to test other Ebola immunization strategies. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched late-stage trials in Sierra Leone to test a potential vaccine among 6,000 health workers and frontline workers in the country.
Other human trials in Guinea, Australia, and China are underway in various stages, according to the World Health Organization.
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