How can science keep up with Ebola?
In March 2014, the worst outbreak of Ebola to date began. At the time of writing, several countries in West Africa were involved, including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Mali, and a small number of cases outside of Africa had been reported. By the end of October, nearly 5,000 people had died from this outbreak.
There is no vaccine or cure, but in the summer of 2014 some doctors began to give untested treatments to patients, prompting debate around whether the risks associated with a vaccine or treatment that hasn’t been tested in humans are more acceptable than the risk of death from a disease. In August, the World Health Organization stated that it was ethical to use untested drugs in this case, as long as the patients gave informed consent and the researchers collected and shared the results.
In August 2014, the Wellcome Trust (the charity that publishes ‘Big Picture’) and other research funders, including the UK government, made £6.5 million available for research into Ebola, including its prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The first vaccine trial using the funding began in Oxford in September 2014. Alongside this work, safety trials of a different vaccine were launched in the autumn of 2014, using healthy volunteers in Germany, Gabon, Kenya and Switzerland.Lead image:
UNICEF Guinea/Flickr CC BY NC ND
- CDC: Case counts for the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa
- WHO fact sheet: Ebola virus disease
- WHO: Ethical considerations for use of unregistered interventions for Ebola virus disease
- Wellcome Trust: Ebola research funding initiative
- Press release: Emergency research call launched to help combat Ebola outbreak
- Press release: First volunteer receives new Ebola vaccine in UK trial
- Multiple trials of VSV Ebola vaccine accelerated by international collaborative