A precious blood sample arrived at Laura Walker’s lab in Lebanon, New Hampshire one year ago.
It wasn’t much–just 50 milliliters (about 1.7 fluid ounces).
But this tiny sample turned out to hold tremendous scientific value. It was from a person fortunate to survive the deadly Ebola virus outbreak of 2014. Walker and her colleagues wanted to know if they could identify some special antibodies in that person’s blood. If this person had special Ebola-neutralizing antibodies, that might help explain why that person lived. The antibodies might also help provide a template for future development of a vaccine. Or, they could be the basis for genetically engineered copies that could be manufactured at large scale, stockpiled and used to rescue people newly infected in an outbreak.
When the scientists went to work, they didn’t find a handful of neutralizing antibodies against the virus. They discovered and characterized 349 antibodies of interest, according to research published today in the journal Science. It’s the largest set of anti-Ebola antibodies described yet in the scientific literature. Besides finding antibodies that potently bind with a known molecular target on the virus, the team identified another molecular target that antibody drugs or vaccines could be specifically aimed at.
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