Bioethics Blogs

Eradicating Ebola: In U.S. Biomedical Research, We Trust

BSL-4 environment

Caption: Researcher inside a biosafety level 4 laboratory, which provides the necessary precautions for working with the Ebola virus.
Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH

As the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease continues to spread in West Africa, now affecting four countries in the region, I am reminded how fragile life is—and how important the role of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is in protecting it.

NIH research has helped us understand how Ebola initially infects people and how it spreads from person to person. Preventing this spread is currently our greatest defense in fighting it. Through research, we know that the Ebola virus is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids and is not transmitted through the air like the flu. We also know the symptoms of Ebola and the period during which they can appear. This knowledge has informed how we manage the disease. We know that the virus can be contained and eradicated with early identification, isolation, strict infection control, and meticulous medical care.

Research also is helping to develop new strategies against Ebola Virus Disease. Scientists employed and funded by NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have been working for decades to develop tests to diagnose the virus early, therapies to treat illness caused by the virus, and vaccines to prevent infection. Several experimental products are in early development and showing promise in laboratory models—a necessary step before testing in humans.

Because of the current situation in Africa, NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center has accelerated an early-stage clinical trial to test the safety of a candidate Ebola vaccine in humans.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.