Ebola Resource Center

Ebola Resource Center

February 23, 2018
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$15 million NIAID grant supports research on Ebola, Lassa fever survivors

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Photo of Kristian Andersen
Kristian Andersen

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently awarded scientists at The Scripps Research Institute a $15 million grant to study survivors of viral disease outbreaks, according to a press release.

Over the next 5 years, Kristian Andersen, PhD, assistant professor at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and director of Infectious Disease Genomics at the Scripps Translational Science Institute, and colleagues will use genomic analyses and other advanced tools to examine data on patients who recovered from Ebola virus disease and Lassa fever.

“These are very severe diseases, but some people survive,” Andersen said in the release. “So, the simple question is ‘why?’ How are some people able to fight off the disease, while others are not?”

So far, research has shown that the most significant determining factor of survival is the amount of virus a patient has, Andersen, who also is co-director of the Center for Viral Systems Biology, said.

“The more virus, the more likely the patient is to die from disease,” he told Infectious Disease News, “Based on these observations, it is therefore likely that things like route of infection and infectious dosage can play key roles in determining outcomes.”

Additional research suggests that certain variants in alleles among the West African population may offer protection against viruses. Andersen and colleagues previously identified a strong link between a gene known as LARGE and resistance to Lassa virus infection. The researchers also found that certain genetic variants in a virus’s genome — such as the A82V mutation in Ebola virus — may be associated with poor disease outcomes.

For the new research project, Andersen and colleagues at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, Tulane University, the University of California, Los Angeles, the Ragon Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will work with officials from Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation to further assess multiple parameters of survival. Andersen said their findings may provide insight into the development of future diagnostics, treatments and vaccines. For instance, the researchers will use wireless digital technology to monitor patient vitals, which will give them a better understanding of how vitals change over time as patients improve or deteriorate.

“If we find, for example, that a sudden drop in heart rate is predictive of imminent death from disease, then we can use that as a predictive marker in future patients,” Andersen said.

They will also monitor immunological responses in Ebola and Lassa fever survivors, which will help inform future vaccine designs by demonstrating what type of responses a more effective vaccine should induce.

“These are but two examples of how we hope our research will benefit the individual patient, and we believe this work will have tremendous inputs on informing diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments.” – by Stephanie Viguers

Disclosure: Andersen reports no relevant financial disclosures.