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EBOLA CURE: Kalbar vet's vital role in finding a treatment

Health workers carry the body of a suspected Ebola victim in Bomi county on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia
Health workers carry the body of a suspected Ebola victim in Bomi county on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia

A KALBAR facility has played a vital role in finding the cure for Ebola.

More than 11,000 victims died and 30,000 were infected by Ebola in just two years during the virus outbreak in 2014.

The largest recorded outbreak of Ebola virus occurred primarily in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, with exported cases in Europe and North America.

Like many people local vet Shane Belford watched in horror as news story after news story showed the effects the outbreak was having on thousands.

He got the chance to help the dire situation when he received a call in October of 2014 which was the catalyst for his journey into vital Ebola research.

Shane works for Plasvacc, a facility in Kalbar that manufactures and distributes high quality blood plasma products for use in veterinary medicine.

He was part of the international team led by Queensland researchers who developed the effective and economical treatment for Ebola.

The research was led by University of Queensland School of Chemistry and Molecular Bioscience's Professor Alexander Khromykh and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute's Professor Andreas Suhrbier.

It involved injecting horses with a specially-developed vaccine.

The horses then produced antibodies which were used to create the Ebola treatment.

"It was October 2014 when I was first approached to be part of the team," Mr Belford said.

Plasvacc production manager Shane Belford with the equine plasma that can be used in a treatment to cure an individual with Ebola.
Plasvacc production manager Shane Belford with the equine plasma that can be used in a treatment to cure an individual with Ebola. David Nielsen

"Our role was small but vital. We were actually making the active ingredient for the serum.

"QMI developed the vaccine which allows the horses to produce antibodies against a specific protein in Ebola. I then injected the vaccines into the horses and they did the rest. It provoked an immune response and they produces adequate amounts of antibodies. Those antibodies were successful in treating the Ebola virus."

The research paper was officially published in February this year.

"It was exciting. It was great to be involved in good research and was fantastic to be a part of the solution," Mr Belford said.

"We have a track record in producing equine-based antibodies as an active pharmaceutical ingredients for humans already. We help produce snake anti-venom plasma so if you go to hospital after a snake bite it's a 50% chance the antibodies came from us.

 

An electron micrograph of an Ebola virion.
Photo contributed
An electron micrograph of an Ebola virion. Photo contributed

"Horse antibodies have been used in many products. Who knows what we can achieve if we keep going down this path of treating disease with immune therapy."

Mr Belford said the potential for using a similar method to treat future diseases was exciting.

"It was great to know we have the ability if we were suddenly exposed to some unusual virus we have a track record on being able to combat it," the vet said.

"Hopefully it leads to more work in that field for our business. The CSIRO contacted me and asked to do more work for them in the future so we will try and work together on future projects.

"It proves you don't have to live in a big city to make a difference in the scientific world."

Professor Khromykh said the post-exposure treatment made with antibodies from horses could be used in the next Ebola outbreak.

"This is a cost-effective treatment that can be used in low-income countries in Africa where equine production facilities are already in operation for producing snake-bite antivenin," he said.

"It's the first time that equine antibodies have been shown to work effectively against Ebola infection.

"The research resulted from a strong collaboration between Australian, French and Russian scientists and a local Queensland company (Plasvacc)."

 

An international team of scientists released their research in February.
An international team of scientists released their research in February.

Professor Khromykh said this led to the development of monoclonal antibodies that were used in the UK to treat infected health workers returning from Africa.

"The down side is that monoclonal antibodies require considerable investment for scale-up and manufacture, and are expensive," he said.

"Equine antibodies are a considerably cheaper alternative, with manufacturing capacity already in place in Africa.

"Antibodies from vaccinated horses provide a low-cost alternative, and are already in use for rabies, botulism and diphtheria."

As well as Plasvacc, the study included researchers from UQ, the State Centre for Virology and Biotechnology "Vector" in Russia, CSIRO, INSERM and Claude Bernard University in France and the United Nations Medical Service in New York.

UQ School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences Head Professor Paul Young, who was part of the research team, said the finding offered great hope as a rapid treatment option for Ebola patients

"It's a significant advance on the way we think about responding to urgent disease threats, and could be applied to the treatment of other infectious diseases," he said.

"It is also a far more appropriate option for resource-poor settings."

Professor Khromykh's team has previously developed an experimental Ebola vaccine made using an Australian virus called Kunjin that might also help in the fight against the deadly Ebola virus.

The Kunjin virus-derived vaccine vector first constructed by Professor Khromykh in 1997 has been used to develop several vaccine candidates, including one for Ebola.

The research, published in the Nature series journal Scientific Reports, was funded by the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre.

Topics:  ebola ebola virus editors picks


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