Ebola Treatment

Ebola Treatment

By Justin Starr

by: Justin Starr, PreScouter Staff Scientist

Problem: Ebola, a deadly threat?

The recent outbreaks of Ebola have garnered massive amounts of media attention in both the United States and the world at large. Although doctors have appeared on the major news networks to demystify the disease and how it spreads, public fear remains high. One of the reasons many are afraid of Ebola is that current treatments focus on keeping patients supplied with nutrients and fluids. The task of actually fighting the disease is delegated to the body’s immune system.

Put simply, no commercially available drug can cure Ebola.

Current Developments: Experimental Treatments – Immune Boosters

Experimental treatments such as ZMapp are based on the same principles as the body’s immune system. ZMapp consists of monoclonal antibodies that have been modified for use in humans. These antibodies target Ebola, bind to the virus, and enable the immune system to take over. It does not provide a cure for sepsis or other complications that can arise from late-stage Ebola, and individuals with compromised or weakened immune systems may still be at risk for fighting the disease.

Innovative Development: Biospleen

A Harvard University team recently developed a device that can help the body clear viruses like Ebola from the bloodstream safely and efficiently. This device mimics the human body’s own spleen in order to cleanse the bloodstream in a process that resembles dialysis.

When the device is operating, blood is drawn out of the body through a pump. A dose of magnetic nanoparticles are then added to the blood. The nanoparticles are coated with a modified version of a protein called mannose-binding lectin (MBL), which attaches itself to sugars on the surface of various bacteria, viruses and fungi that can cause infection in humans. The nanoparticle-coated pathogens are then removed from the bloodstream via a magnetic filter, and clean blood returns to the circulatory system.

Such a synthetic spleen has tremendous implications for the treatment of diseases that can quickly overwhelm the immune system, as it can provide a safe and effective boost to the body’s own natural defenses. The biospleen is currently being tested on pigs. Human trials have not yet begun.

Lead Researcher: Dr. Donald Ingbar

The biospleen is just one of many innovations that have come out of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, founded in part by Dr. Donald Ingbar. Dr. Ingbar’s research seeks to create new engineering devices that are built on biological systems, which have been refined through millions of years of evolutionary selection and optimization. This approach has led to the Wyss institute demonstrating a number of transformative devices based on biologically-inspired designs, including superhydrophobic surfaces, balance-assisting shoe inserts and more.

While product development teams give careful thought to academic and industrial collaboration, the array of innovation demonstrated by the Wyss Institute suggests that the biological world may be the most valuable collaborator of all.

Source article: http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nm.3640.html
Wyss Institute: http://wyss.harvard.edu/

Photo courtesy of dollarphotoclub.com

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