Blood from recovered patients to cure Ebola?

Can blood from recovered Ebola patients be used to help cure people who come down with Ebola? This is a question that is taxing the minds of scientists in Antwerp. With EU funding Belgium's Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp (ITM) is now to head an international consortium that will examine if plasma taken from recovered Ebola patients can be used to help cure people who become infected with the disease.

The international Ebola Tx consortium is responding to an urgent appeal from the European Commission for scientific projects that could help in the fight against Ebola. Apart from Belgium's Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp the consortium includes the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the universities of Oxford and Liverpool and the Paris-based Pasteur Institute.

The European Union is releasing 2.9 million euros for this ground-breaking project that will examine the safety and efficacy of treatment using blood and plasma. The ITM will closely collaborate with the Flemish Red Cross that possesses considerable experience in collecting and treating blood.

The procedure that involves the use of antibodies from recovered patients is described as simple and if it proves to be successful it could be widely implemented in West Africa soon.

The ITM's Roeland Scholtalbers told flandersnews that the procedure had been tried before: "In 1995 limited tests were carried out when Ebola broke out in Kikwit in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Eight patients received Ebola antibodies and 7 survived. To confirm these results there is an urgent need to evaluate this therapy on a larger scale in carefully designed studies.”

The project is being rushed through in response to the Ebola crisis. It will start in Guinea, one of the Ebola risk countries - as early as November and involve the Guinean blood transfusion service. The project is being staged in conjunction with the World Health Organisation and the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium (ISARIC).

Johan van Griensven is project leader at the ITM: "Blood and plasma therapy is a medical procedure with a long track record. It's been safely used against several infectious diseases. We now want to discover whether it can be used effectively against Ebola in a bid to cut the number of deaths in the present outbreak.

Roeland Scholtalbers: "If successful, the procedure could have an important impact on Ebola survivors too. People with Ebola are often stigmatised. Now they would be playing an active role in combating the disease giving them greater acceptance in their communities."

Belgium involved in vaccine development too

This present project comes in addition to European efforts to develop experimental drugs to treat Ebola and the development of a vaccine. In all the European Commission is releasing 24.4 million euros for Ebola-related research.

15.15 million euros is being spent on clinical trials in Africa and Europe on the ChAd3-EBOV test vaccine. The tests of this vaccine will be co-ordinated by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals in Belgium. The EC has described ChAd3-EBOV as the most advanced anti-Ebola vaccine. Research will focus on the vaccine's safety, determining its positive immune response and discovering what the best vaccination programme is.