Ebola virus experts discover a powerful approach for stopping outbreaks

Ebola virus experts discover a powerful approach for stopping outbreaks

Aug 31

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Bronwyn Gunn and Galit Alter | Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard


From 2013–2016, West Africa faced the deadliest Ebola outbreak the world has ever seen. By the time the outbreak was declared over, 11,325 people had died. Antibody therapy is considered among the most promising treatments for the Ebola virus infection, and the hope is that the most effective antibodies can be combined into a therapeutic cocktail. Unlike an Ebola vaccine, these cocktails could be given to those already infected, which is important to be able to stop a disease that tends to emerge unexpectedly in remote locations. However, it is crucial that scientists understand how a variety of different antibodies protect against Ebola virus in order to develop effective antibody therapeutics.


The Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Immunotherapeutics Consortium (VIC) is an international group of the world’s leading virologists, immunologists, systems biologists, and structural biologists, including researchers from the Ragon Institute. The VIC has been working to understand which Ebola-fighting antibodies are best and why. By comparing a large panel of 168 Ebola virus-specific antibodies donated from different labs around the world, the VIC has found that a one-two punch of powerful antibodies may be the best way to stop Ebola virus. In a pair of reports published this month in the journals Cell and Cell Host & Microbethe VIC suggests that new antibody therapies should disable Ebola virus’s infection machinery and spark the patient’s immune system to call in reinforcements.


In this groundbreaking co-publication, researchers Bronwyn Gunn, Wen-Han Yu, and Galit Alter revealed the critical role of antibodies able to activate the innate immune system to provide protection from a lethal Ebola virus infection. Specifically, using the Alter lab’s proprietary Systems Serology antibody profiling approach, Dr. Gunn showed that the most protective antibodies all harbored a unique capacity to wake up the immune system and direct the killing of infected cells. Using this information, Dr. Yu then identified the unique features on the most protective antibodies – providing a novel blueprint for the design of next generation therapeutics to fight Ebola virus infection. Importantly, these papers highlight the broad applicability of the Alter Lab’s methodologies in helping pave the way to designing more effective therapeutics and vaccines against existing epidemics, pandemics, and future outbreaks.


Photo of the co-authors courtesy of Galit Alter.