Tulane researchers combat ebola virus

Selby White, Contributing Reporter

Tulane University is one of the forefront research and clinical leaders on the Ebola virus that has killed nearly 3,000 people since March in West Africa. Tulane researchers have studied Ebola for nearly a decade.

At the beginning of the current Ebola outbreak, Tulane’s researchers and virologists were researching a type of hemorrhagic fever called Lassa fever. Lassa virus has almost identical symptoms as Ebola. Tulane’s team, based at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, predicted Ebola’s potential danger almost immediately.

“When the outbreak started in March, we knew that we needed to help our colleagues there and go to the hospitals and get prepared for another very serious viral disease,” Robert Garry, professor of microbiology and immunology, said. 

Garry is the program manager for the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Consortium. This consortium is a partnership between many universities, including Tulane. The consortium received a $15 million contract for ongoing prevention, treatment and research of Lassa fever. Garry, who was in Sierra Leone only three months ago, is still actively involved in researching Ebola. 

Keith Brannon, the associate director of public relations at Tulane University said the consortium was able to contribute to field work in areas impacted by Ebola.

“We run a [National Institutes of Health]-supported hemorrhagic fever consortium with MIT and Harvard that is working on diagnostic field kits to rapidly test for the Lassa virus or Ebola in rural area,” Brannon said. “This will enable public health officials to better contain the outbreak.”

Since the incubation period of Ebola is long, victims can be infected for up to 21 days before they begin showing symptoms. One of the main concerns exacerbated by the latency is early detection.

“[Tulane doctors and researchers] are working on rapid diagnostic tests that can help to determine if a person has the disease,” Garry said. “We’ve been working very hard since March to get our prototype of the Ebola test up to a point where we could possibly deploy it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the current outbreak is the largest outbreak of Ebola in history. Garry said it will have to get worse before it gets better. With the CDC predicting that there could be as many as 1.5 million cases before the outbreak is over, Garry believes that more needs to be done.

“There needs to be an intense effort to get this outbreak under control,” Garry said. “The world can’t afford to have that many cases. Those countries deserve our support.”