The scientists are Tulane University was awarded a $12 million grant for animal studies to develop a vaccine and find new treatments for Lassa fever. The deadly virus can attack the organs, causing bleeding from the mouth, nose and gastrointestinal tract.
The research will be divided into two five-year studies, which will be led by Robert Garry, a professor at Tulane University School of Medicine. One of the studies will receive $5.7 million for evaluating drug combination to treat the Lassa virus. The other study will get $6.3 million to develop a new vaccine to stimulate the production of antibodies on the surface of the virus.
“In West Africa, we need a drug to treat acutely infected patients as well as preventative measure to stop it,” Garry said in an interview. “Vaccine initiatives in rural Africa are difficult so you are never going to be able to vaccinate everyone. You need to be able to treat people when they get sick.”
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 100,000 and 300,000 people are affected by the virus each year. The virus is most often transmitted through food that has been contaminated with rat urine and feces. The virus is linked to about 5,000 deaths each year in Africa.
The vaccine will include both Ebola and Lassa fever glycoproteins, a very important molecule that consists of a protein and carbohydrates and gives structural support to cells. By targeting these proteins, it is possible to prevent the virus from infecting the host cells.
“Ebola is likely to come and Lassa isn’t going away so you have to protect against both, Garry said. “We think we can do it with one shot.”