As Ebola Spreads in West Africa, Science Searches For the Cure

Research and testing of potential vaccines is a slow-moving process. As authorities strive to contain the current West African epidemic, scientists are already looking toward the next outbreak.

What's the Latest?


The latest outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has claimed over 700 lives (including Sierra Leone's top Ebola doctor). Health professionals who have traveled to countries such as Liberia and Togo to fight the virus are doing so armed with inadequate weapons. That's because a cure for Ebola does not yet exist. Thousands of miles away in research labs across the world, scientists are working with one eye on Africa and the other on their work. The goal is to move potential vaccines through phases of testing as swiftly as possible. Unfortunately for those at risk of contracting this current strain, "swiftly as possible" is still quite slow. Researchers are working quickly in anticipation of the next outbreak, whenever that may come.

What's the Big Idea?

Currently, doctors can only provide supportive measures for the infected by treating their symptoms. Life and death is left almost entirely to chance. Patients showing symptoms are placed in isolation and treated by healthcare professionals decked head-to-toe in protective gear. Despite their best efforts, many of the medical workers fighting the Ebola outbreak have contracted the virus during treatment. This current strain kills an estimated 90% of those infected. Authorities maintain a top priority of minimizing the virus' spread. Until better treatments are developed, doctors are forced to rely more on logistical tactics than healthcare remedies.

Big Think has already covered one potential breakthrough in the search for an Ebola vaccine. Accoring to New Scientist, other hopeful prospects include the drug TKM-Ebola, the compound BCX4430, and a vaccine featuring a harmless strain of vesicular stomatitis virus. The vaccine is most promising because it could be used to treat the disease even after infection, much like the rabies vaccine. 

Even if a diamond in the rough exists among these potential cures, the current outbreak will have been long contained (and probably forgotten, at least outside of West Africa) by then. As for fear of the disease spreading to the United States, the case of Patrick Sawyer drummed up a flurry of fear-mongering headlines (just Google "ebola" "america" and "worry"), but the CDC is confident the U.S. is safe.

Despite the deadly nature of an Ebola infection, it's just not the sort of virus that could spread widely here, especially when prudent measures are taken to prevent it from doing so.

Photo credit: Creations / Shutterstock

Read more at New Scientist

Related Articles

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less

Giving octopuses ecstasy reveals surprising link to humans

A groundbreaking new study shows that octopuses seemed to exhibit uncharacteristically social behavior when given MDMA, the psychedelic drug commonly known as ecstasy.

Image: damn_unique via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Octopuses, like humans, have genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.
  • Scientists gave MDMA to octopuses to see whether those genes translated into a binding site for serotonin, which regulates emotions and behavior in humans
  • Octopuses, which are typically asocial creatures, seem to get friendlier while on MDMA, suggesting humans have more in common with the strange invertebrates than previously thought
Keep reading Show less