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Could the blood of Ebola survivors help patients?

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 4, 2014 at 10:30 am •  Published: September 4, 2014

LONDON (AP) — As West Africa struggles to contain the biggest ever outbreak of Ebola, some experts say an unusual but simple treatment might help: the blood of survivors.

The evidence is mixed for using infection-fighting antibodies from survivors' blood for Ebola, but without any licensed drugs or vaccines for the deadly disease, some say it's worth a shot.

"This is something that's fairly simple to do," said Dr. Peter Piot, director of London's School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus.

Using blood of survivors is one of the experimental Ebola treatments under discussion at a two-day meeting that began Thursday in Geneva. The more than 200 experts assembled by the World Health Organization are looking at issues of safety and effectiveness and considering which treatments should be prioritized for testing during the current outbreak.

There are about a half dozen medicines and vaccines in development. None has been rigorously tested in humans but early testing of one vaccine began this week in the United States.

Much attention has focused on the untested drug ZMapp, which was given to seven patients, two of whom died. But the limited supply is now exhausted and its developer says it will take months to make even a modest amount.

In contrast, WHO's blood network, an international group of blood regulators, noted there are thousands of survivors from past Ebola outbreaks in Africa who could be tapped as a source of survivor blood.

The group recently issued a paper on how the strategy might be used. It said blood from survivors should be considered experimental and it recommended studies be done during the outbreak.

Some scientists think antibodies in the blood of Ebola survivors could help patients infected with the deadly disease. Antibodies are produced by the body's immune system to fight off harmful things like viruses; they remain in the blood ready to fight off any future infections by the same foreign substance.

Piot said it is vital to find out if the blood treatment is effective.

"I hope this is the last Ebola outbreak where all we have is isolation, quarantine and supportive care to treat patients," he said.

Experts say blood from survivors could be collected and processed for multiple patients, or a survivor could donate blood to an individual patient. Both methods require screening the blood for diseases like HIV or malaria.

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