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UW Madison: Team unlocks secrets of Ebola
11/16/2017

CONTACT: Yoshihiro Kawaoka, yoshihiro.kawaoka@wisc.edu

DOWNLOAD PHOTOS: https://uwmadison.box.com/v/Ebola-Sierra-Leone

MADISON - In a comprehensive and complex molecular study of blood samples from Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, published today (Nov. 16, 2017) in Cell Host and Microbe, a scientific team led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison has identified signatures of Ebola virus disease that may aid in future treatment efforts.

Conducting a sweeping analysis of everything from enzymes to lipids to immune-system-associated molecules, the team - which includes researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the University of Tokyo and the University of Sierra Leone - found 11 biomarkers that distinguish fatal infections from nonfatal ones and two that, when screened for early symptom onset, accurately predict which patients are likely to die.

With these results, says senior author Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virology professor at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, clinicians can prioritize the scarce treatment resources available and provide care to the sickest patients.

Studying Ebola in animal models is difficult; in humans, next to impossible. Yet, in Sierra Leone in 2014, a natural and devastating experiment played out. In September of that year, an Ebola outbreak like no other was beginning to surge in the West African nation. By December, as many as 400 Ebola cases would be reported there each week.

That fall, Kawaoka sought access to patient samples. He has spent a career trying to understand infectious diseases like Ebola - how do they make people sick, how do bodies respond to infection, how can public health officials stay at least a step ahead?

"Here, there is a major outbreak of Ebola. It is very rare for us to encounter that situation," says Kawaoka, who is also a professor of virology at the University of Tokyo.

Yet blood samples were proving difficult to obtain and people continued to die.

Then, just weeks before Christmas, Kawaoka learned about a colleague in his very own department at UW-Madison, a research fellow from Sierra Leone named Alhaji N'jai, who was producing radio stories for people back home to help them protect themselves from Ebola. The pair forged a fortuitous partnership.

"He knows many people high up in the Sierra Leone government," says Kawaoka. "He is very smart and very good at explaining things in lay terms."

By Christmas, Kawaoka, N'jai and Peter Halfmann, a senior member of Kawaoka's team, were in Sierra Leone.

READ MORE AT https://news.wisc.edu/in-the-heart-of-devastating-outbreak-research-team-unlocks-secrets-of-ebola/

SIDEBAR: https://news.wisc.edu/movie-reaches-spiderman-audience-with-ebola-messaging/
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