Scientists have developed new antibodies that could potentially neutralize two of the deadliest types of Ebola virus, but that news comes with a catch — the immunotherapies have only been proven in a mouse model.
The research, published Wednesday in Scientific Reports, is a first step toward developing a treatment for Ebola and Marburg viruses. Scientists at the Army’s Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases and Albert Einstein College of Medicine developed antibodies that protected mice against Sudan and Zaire Ebola viruses even after they were exposed. The Sudan and Zaire species of Ebola virus are particularly threatening, accounting for 95 percent of Ebola-related deaths between 1976 and 2012.
“While this result is encouraging, the therapy must first be tested in larger animal models (including non-human primates) before we have any idea if they could be used for human therapy,” biochemist and study author Jonathan Lai of Albert Einstein College of Medicine said.
Thomas Geisbert, who studies Ebola at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said the results from a small trial on mice give him pause, too. “The mouse model has been historically notorious for giving false results and false hope,” he explained. “I’ve got shelves full of things that protect mice against Ebola but don’t work on monkeys.”
Lai said the research team will next try to engineer other antibodies that can be combined with the new discoveries to make a cocktail that could treat more types of the virus. But that research will take a hefty amount of time and resources, meaning the research results could be far down the road.