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TSRI Laboratories Perform Crucial Research in Development of Promising Ebola Virus Treatment


Laboratories at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) are investigating antibodies to fight Ebola virus, including the three antibodies recently used to treat two American health care workers infected with the Ebola virus.

The conditions of two Americans have reportedly improved since they received a highly experimental antibody cocktail called ZMapp, supplied by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical.

Photo courtesy of The Scripps Research Institute.

Scripps Research Institute Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire heads a consortium to find the best antibody cocktail to treat deadly Ebola virus infections.

The TSRI laboratories of Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire and Assistant Professor Andrew Ward are studying the structures of these antibodies using techniques called electron microscopy, which creates high-resolution images by hitting samples with electrons, and X-ray crystallography, which determines the atomic structure of crystalline arrays of proteins.

Through these images, the team will discover exactly how the immune system molecules bind to the Ebola virus and stop it from functioning, a critical step in drug development.

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Ebola virus causes an extremely virulent disease that currently leads to death in 25 to 90 percent of cases. The fast-moving virus is spread via the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person,

“What we’re showing are sites of vulnerability on the surface of the virus,” said C. Daniel Murin, a graduate student in the Saphire and Ward labs. “These are the chinks in the armor of the virus and the places were you would want your anti-serum to target.”

The ZMapp treatment is still in experimental stages and has not yet been approved for use outside the two recent cases. According to Saphire, ZMapp is one of the best antibody cocktails currently known, but there may still be ways to improve it. She is currently leading a $28 million National Institutes of Health-funded consortium to test antibody cocktails from laboratories around the world, with the goal of finding the best for neutralizing Ebola virus and the many other viruses like it.

An ideal antibody cocktail would ease symptoms and improve the prognosis of infected individuals—it could even work as a preventative measure, protecting healthcare workers before they enter an infected area.

The work on the Ebola virus is part of a larger Vaccine and Global Health Initiative at TSRI, which includes research on HIV/AIDS, influenza and tuberculosis.


1. Outsmarting Viruses: A Profile of Erica Ollmann Saphire

2. Video: Creating a Roadmap for New Treatments

3. Consortium Wins Up to $28 Million to Find Best Ebola Treatment

4. TSRI’s Vaccine and Global Health Initiative

About the Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs about 3,000 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including three Nobel laureates—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see

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Mika Ono

Mika Ono | newswise

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