Canadian Scientists On Front Lines of West Africa Ebola Outbreak

Canadian Scientists On Front Lines of West Africa Ebola OutbreakFor the past 30 years, Central and Western Africa have been plagued by Ebola outbreaks. The latest outbreak earlier this year has escalated to unprecedented levels as professionals in the field, like Doctors Without Borders, warn that they have reached their limit in terms of caring for new victims.
DWB says they’ve treated 470 patients since the outbreak started in Guinea in March. But they’re very concerned about keeping up with new cases emerging in Sierra Leone and Liberia. And now, officials are testing a 40 year old man who collapsed at the Lagos airport, fearful that the disease has spread further to Nigeria.
Alongside doctors, Canadian scientists are playing crucial roles in the battle against Ebola. They’re flying to West Africa to test suspected victims, and a dedicated Winnipeg lab is busy conducting cutting-edge clinical research on the world’s first Ebola vaccine.

Dr. Kobinger’s Team

Dr. Kobinger is chief of special pathogens at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. His research team just returned last week after nearly a month in Guinea and Sierra Leone, working as part of the international efforts to contain the prolonged outbreak. They’re some of the world’s top specialists in diagnosing rare pathogens – diseases like Ebola for which there is no known cure. And because there’s no fool proof treatment for Ebola, teams like Kobinger’s are a crucial part of the containment strategy. Our best bet is to control the outbreak by stopping transmission.

Long Wait For New Drugs

For the last 15 years, Dr. Kobinger’s Winnipeg lab along with several others in the US have come close to formulating promising Ebola therapies. So far, a few have tested well with non-human primates, but the pharmaceutical testing is still in early stages. Government regulators, like the FDA and Health Canada, impose tough quality assurance and quality control protocols on these treatments – and these rules can mean very long wait times until new drugs hit the market. Recently, a Burnaby, BC lab was asked to suspend one of its most promising formulas when a trial participant experienced a reaction. The FDA has put the entire testing process on hold until it has more information about this particular test subject.

Symptoms of Ebola

Ebola is an aggressive, often fatal illness in humans. According to the World Health Organization, Ebola outbreaks have a case fatality rate of 90 percent. The virus is transmitted to people from contact with infected animals, and then spreads rapidly through person-to-person transmission. Victims of Ebola are beset by sudden onset fever, which is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Doctors and researchers who travel to West Africa to assist in outbreaks must take exceptional precautions to avoid contracting the virus themselves. It can take up to 21 days after infection for symptoms to even present, which is why quick diagnosis is so critical to the containment strategy.

Do you think health officials should lift some of the conventional quality control barriers so researchers can move more quickly with Ebola treatments?