The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), working with a team of researchers including those at Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, will spend the next five years studying the survivors of Ebola and Lassa virus outbreaks to better understand how to protect others in the future.
“These are very severe diseases, but some people survive,” explains lead researcher Dr. Kristian Andersen, an assistant professor at TSRI and co-director of the Center for Viral Systems Biology.
“So, the simple question is ‘why?’ How are some people able to fight off the disease, while others are not?” Andersen said. To find out, the research teams – armed with a new USD$15 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in the United States – will collect data from thousands of survivors.
The death toll from the 2013-2016 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa soared past 10,000, but the virus infected more than 28,000 people. Similar Lassa virus outbreaks occur in West Africa, tragically claiming lives but also leaving survivors.
“This is different from a lot of research where we are looking at the outbreaks as a whole,” Andersen said. “In this research, instead we’re zooming in on the individual patient to learn how we can best treat and prevent these diseases in the future.”
The new project builds on 10 years of collaboration in Sierra Leone, where scientists, staff and local partners have built research facilities and worked with patients. Besides Kenema, other partners include Tulane University; University of California, Los Angeles; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Ragon Institute in Massachusetts.