BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

August 6, 2018

Research Roundup: R&D investment in Africa, genetically modified rice to help prevent HIV, and antibodies for three Ebola viruses

Ansley Kahn
Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Patrick McKern

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In this editorial piece, Dr. Jenniffer Mabuka of the African Academy of Sciences makes a case that Africa needs to develop a research base to help detect and monitor a range of pathogens and better address disease outbreaks on the continent. Mabuka explains, “A thorough base of research would result in tools that will speed up detection and containment of future outbreaks, generate the knowledge base to help predict future outbreaks of known origins, and help accelerate the development of diagnostics, efficacious drugs and vaccines.” She notes that investing in research and development must be a priority for African governments as recent outbreaks serve as a reminder that equatorial Africa is a hotbed for emerging and re-emerging diseases.

A group of scientists has developed a technique to modify a strain of rice to produce HIV-neutralizing proteins. While further study is needed, the researchers believe this technique could offer promise as a low-cost approach for low- and middle-income countries to manufacture topical microbicides, which are compounds that can be applied to the vagina or rectum to reduce the risk of HIV infection. Given the research team was able to alter the rice to simultaneously produce three key proteins, a combination necessary to produce a microbicide with broad coverage against multiple HIV strains, the plant’s seed extract could be used directly as a microbicide without the need for additional costly processing.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have achieved an important step forward in developing a broadly effective antibody treatment against the three major Ebola strains. The research team reported the isolation of two potent monoclonal antibodies from human survivors of the Ebola virus. In cell culture studies, these antibodies efficiently neutralized the Zaire, Sudan, and Bundibugyo strains of the virus. Further study is required to determine if these antibodies can be combined into an injectable for use in people at high risk of being infected with the Ebola virus. The hope is that the injected antibody “cocktail” would seek out and destroy the virus before it has the chance to wreak havoc on the human body.

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