U.S. military brings scientists closer to Ebola cure

If you know anything about the Ebola virus, you’re terrified by it. The disease, euphemistically dubbed a haemorrhagic fever, essentially causes one’s innards to turn to mush, and blood begins to leak out of a patients eyes, nose, ears — everywhere. It’s only turned up sporadically in remote Africa in humans, but when it does, it ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
Claude Mahoudeau/AFP/Getty Images
Claude Mahoudeau/AFP/Getty Images
Claude Mahoudeau/AFP/Getty Images

If you know anything about the Ebola virus, you're terrified by it. The disease, euphemistically dubbed a haemorrhagic fever, essentially causes one's innards to turn to mush, and blood begins to leak out of a patients eyes, nose, ears -- everywhere. It's only turned up sporadically in remote Africa in humans, but when it does, it has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.

Think that sounds scary? How about this prospect: that disease engineered as bioweapon. Right. That's what the Department of Defense thought in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. So they have been researching drug therapy treatments ever since. 

Yesterday, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and a private firm, AVI BioPharma, published the results of studies that show that their treatment does have a helpful effect in monkeys. That's a huge leap, particularly since the reserachers were given clearance to start limited human testing. The partnership won a Defense Department grant of up to $291 million last month for that phase.

If you know anything about the Ebola virus, you’re terrified by it. The disease, euphemistically dubbed a haemorrhagic fever, essentially causes one’s innards to turn to mush, and blood begins to leak out of a patients eyes, nose, ears — everywhere. It’s only turned up sporadically in remote Africa in humans, but when it does, it has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.

Think that sounds scary? How about this prospect: that disease engineered as bioweapon. Right. That’s what the Department of Defense thought in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. So they have been researching drug therapy treatments ever since. 

Yesterday, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and a private firm, AVI BioPharma, published the results of studies that show that their treatment does have a helpful effect in monkeys. That’s a huge leap, particularly since the reserachers were given clearance to start limited human testing. The partnership won a Defense Department grant of up to $291 million last month for that phase.

It’s an interesting reminder of just how many technological advances have come out of such army research — and who knows, maybe more disease treatments will be down the pipeline. Now, if only they would start researching malaria . . .

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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