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Ebola is now largely curable, new clinical trials suggest

A recent clinical trial shows that two new drugs are far more effective than current treatments.

Photo credit: AUGUSTIN WAMENYA / Getty Contributor
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo has been suffering a major Ebola outbreak since August 2018.
  • In November 2018, a clinical trial began comparing the efficacy of four Ebola treatments.
  • Two of those treatments — based on monoclonal antibodies — are nearly twice as effective as the standard treatment.


In August 2018, an Ebola outbreak struck a conflict zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province. It soon spread elsewhere throughout the nation of 81.3 million people, many of whom are embroiled in battles over DRC's valuable minerals. By April, the outbreak had become the second worst ever recorded, and by June it had killed at least 1,357 Congolese.

But a recent clinical trial that compared the efficacy of four Ebola treatments brings good news.

"From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the director general of the Institut National pour la Recherche Biomédicale in DRC, which has overseen the trial. "These advances will help save thousands of lives."

In November 2018, doctors in DRC began randomly assigning Ebola patients one of four treatments: an antiviral drug named remdesivir, or one of three drugs made of monoclonal antibodies, which are a set of immune cells cloned from a parent cell. ZMapp — one of the three drugs that use monoclonal antibodies — has long been considered the most effective treatment for Ebola. In the clinical trial, it helped lower mortality rates among Ebola patients to about 49 percent. (Patients who don't receive any treatment have a mortality rate of roughly 75 percent.)

But two other drugs of the same class — a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies made by a company named Regeneron, and an antibody called mAb114 made by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Vaccine Research Center — were much more effective, yielding an overall mortality rate of 29 and 34 percent, respectively. These drugs were developed by giving mice Ebola and then extracting the antibodies that the mice produced. Scientists then tweaked those mice antibodies so the human body would accept them. The two drugs will now be administered in every treatment center in DRC.

An illustration depicting how to safely bury people who died from Ebola. Image source: CDC's Center for Global Health

The monoclonal antibodies-based drugs were especially successful at curing Ebola when patients took them soon after becoming sick, with Regeneron's drug lowering mortality rates to just 6 percent. But one problem is that most Ebola patients in DRC wait an average of four days before coming to the hospital, which decreases the odds of survival and increases the odds of transmitting the disease — through bodily fluids — to people near them.

But health experts are optimistic about the new drugs.

"The more we learn about these two treatments, and how they can complement the public health response, including contact tracing and vaccination, the closer we can get to turning Ebola from a terrifying disease to one that is preventable and treatable," Dr. Jeremy Farrar, the co-chair of the World Health Organization's Ebola therapeutics group, told The Guardian. "We won't ever get rid of Ebola but we should be able to stop these outbreaks from turning into major national and regional epidemics."

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

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Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
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Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

A girl and her mother take an afternoon nap in bed.

Personal Growth
  • We spend 40 percent of our childhoods asleep, a time for cognitive growth and development.
  • A recent study found an association between irregular sleep patterns in childhood and either psychotic experiences or borderline personality disorder during teenage years.
  • The researchers hope their findings can help identify at-risk youth to improve early intervention.
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