Work will focus on vaccine for Ebola and Marburg and immune response

University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston associate professor Alexander Bukreyev has embarked on two major federally funded investigations into the Ebola and Marburg viruses.

In the first, supported by a five-year $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Bukreyev will work to develop a new needle-free aerosol vaccine designed to protect against both viruses. No effective vaccine or therapy currently exists for either Ebola or Marburg; both have high mortality rates and have been implicated in numerous recent outbreaks in Central Africa. 

Also working with Bukreyev on the project will be UTMB professors Thomas Ksiazek and Thomas Geisbert. 

Blood samples taken from survivors of Ebola and Marburg outbreaks will form the basis of Bukreyev’s second recently funded project, a five-year $1.8 million Defense Threat Reduction Agency contract to investigate human immune responses to infections by the viruses. Bukreyev will be collaborating with Dr. James Crowe of Vanderbilt University on the project, in which monoclonal antibodies — copies of molecules made by the immune system to target specific pathogens — will be used to explore the natural defenses mounted by Ebola and Marburg survivors against the viruses.

“One of the most striking features seen in most Ebola and Marburg infections is the lack of protective immune response,” Bukreyev said. “Some patients do mount a successful response, however, and in the clinical component of this exciting study we’ll be investigating the molecular and genetic components involved in this process.”