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Experimental Ebola vaccine makes researchers hopeful in human trials

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A trial involving people who are at risk for Ebola will start soon in Sierra Leone

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Another Ebola vaccine is making its way through human trials with promising results. The vaccine was well tolerated by healthy volunteers in an early safety trial, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine today.

"this vaccine could be further tested in large phase III studies in West Africa"

Since the beginning of the current outbreak, Ebola has infected over 25,000 people and claimed the lives of 10,000 people, most of whom reside in West Africa. Ebola isn't air borne; transmission can be controlled through routine hand-washing and by using barriers to prevent contact with infectious bodily fluids. Still, doctors don't have a cure for Ebola and the death toll continues to rise. This is why scientists are actively searching for a way to protect people who live in regions where the virus is present.

In the study, researchers vaccinated 158 healthy volunteers in Kenya, Switzerland, and Germany with a placebo, or various doses of an Ebola vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV. In the weeks that followed, the researchers measured the volunteers' immunological responses to the drug, and checked them for negative side effects. About 35 percent of the participants developed a fever following the vaccination. Another 22 percent developed arthritis in one to four joints, with pain lasting about eight days — a side-effect that still needs to be investigated. None of the study participants experienced serious vaccine-related side effects, however.

Still needs to be tested in an area where people are actually at risk for Ebola

The volunteers' blood showed antibodies to Ebola, suggesting their immune systems might be able to fight off the infection. But until it's tested in an area where people are actually at risk for Ebola, we won't really know if it can protect people from the disease. Still, giving the vaccine to healthy volunteers helped the researchers determine which doses of the vaccines should be used on humans in future trials.

This was a preliminary report, says study co-author and University of Geneva pathologist Claire-Anne Siegrist. The researchers haven't finished gathering data from the 158 study participants; they will find out more about the vaccine's effects as they continue to monitor them. That doesn't mean that we're stuck in a waiting game. Another trial for the vaccine is already underway in Guinea, Siegrist says. And a trial involving people who are at risk for Ebola will start soon in Sierra Leone.