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Working on Ebola in Galveston

Given what’s been going on lately I thought this would be of interest.

As the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history sweeps across West Africa, hope for a cure is centering on scientists thousands of miles away at the Galveston National Laboratory, where researchers are working on three of the most promising potential cures.

The National Lab, on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, has been awarded $6 million from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense to develop cures for Ebola and the equally deadly Marburg virus, UTMB said this week.

The Ebola virus that has infected more than 1,000 people in West Africa and killed more than 700 is a new strain, which could complicate efforts to develop a cure, said Scott Weaver, the National Lab’s scientific director.

The outbreak is the longest-lasting and most widespread Ebola outbreak ever recorded, Weaver said, and cases are being reported for the first time in highly populated cities.

The National Laboratory is the only academic lab in the country to be rated Level 4, meaning it is equipped to research the deadliest biological agents known because of the sophisticated safeguards in place. Weaver said scientists at the National Laboratory have been working with the Ebola virus for 10 years, making them a natural choice to pursue the cures.

[...]

Even if an infected person arrives in the U.S., there is little chance that Ebola could get a foothold here, said T.G. Ksiazek, a pathology professor at UTMB. Ebola can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids and is easily controlled with modern medical techniques, said Ksiazek, who will leave for Africa this month to assist in efforts to halt the spread of Ebola.

“We do occasionally have diseases like this imported into the U.S. and we fare well,” he said.

Good to know. I don’t even want to think about the panic and overreaction that would occur here if there ever was such an outbreak, even though there’s not that much danger of actually catching it. This is one of those times when being – how shall I put this? – less scientifically literate that we might be as a society would be a major negative. The politics of ignorance and fearmongering that we already have are quite enough, thanks.

One more thing:

The bulk of the research on Ebola is being done in the U.S. because the federal government has been willing to fund research into cures of what are known as “emerging diseases,” such as the Ebola and West Nile viruses. Private companies are reluctant to invest the millions – or hundreds of millions – of dollars needed to develop a cure for a disease like Ebola because there is little chance of making a profit.

“There is really no market for this in a typical sense,” Weaver said. “There is no company that thinks they can market this in West Africa for a profit.”

Sarah Kliff explored that question in more detail a few days ago. Keep that in your back pocket the next time a debate about the role of government comes up in your vicinity. I wish the scientists working on this problem and others like it all the success in the world.

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