UTMB doctors part of Ebola fight, trying to create vaccine for deadly virus

GALVESTON, TX (KTRK) -- Even before Dallas reported the nation's first confirmed case of Ebola, doctors in Galveston has been working on a vaccine and treatment for the deadly virus that has killed more than 3,000 people in western Africa.

The island is home to one of the few Biosafety Level 4 labs in the world and tackles the deadliest contagious diseases known to man.

Dr. Thomas Geisber, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB, daily suits up in what amounts to a space suit to tackle the Ebola virus.

The work has produced encouraging results.

"We have preventive vaccine and antiviral drugs that can completely protect against Ebola on laboratory animals in a lab setting," he says.

The outbreak was known to researchers, who'd attended a symposium at UTMB earlier this year. Some of those who planned to attend had to cancel because they were called to Africa. That was in March.

Since then, the outbreak has increased, which troubles Geisbert. In the past outbreaks were controlled.

"They'd quarantine a village and it burns itself out. It's self contained. This outbreak has been unusual because that's not happened," he said.

UTMB was awarded a $28 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop three promising vaccines and treatments for use in humans.

The issue, he says, is how do you confirm a successful test, without a placebo, which would expose a human test subject to a lethal virus.

Geisbert is concerned about how the virus has spread in Africa. It was first linked to bats then it spread into non-human primates, which is also a food source for some cultures. That introduced it into the human population, he says. Now it's spreading from person to person and is considered highly contagious. However, officials emphasize the virus is not airborne and is spread only through exposure of bodily fluids of those already showing symptoms of the virus.
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