Bioethics Blogs

Creative Minds: Preparing for Future Pandemics

Jonathan Abraham / Credit: ChieYu Lin

Growing up in Queens, NY, Jonathan Abraham developed a love for books and an interest in infectious diseases. One day Abraham got his hands on a copy of Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague, a 1990s bestseller warning of future global pandemics, and he sensed his life’s calling. He would help people around the world survive deadly viral outbreaks, particularly from Ebola, Marburg, and other really bad bugs that cause deadly hemorrhagic fevers.

Abraham, now a physician-scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, continues to chase that dream. With support from an NIH Director’s 2016 Early Independence Award, Abraham has set out to help design the next generation of treatments to enable more people to survive future outbreaks of viral hemorrhagic fever. His research strategy: find antibodies in the blood of known survivors that helped them overcome their infections. With further study, he hopes to develop purified forms of the antibodies as potentially life-saving treatments for people whose own immune systems may not make them in time. This therapeutic strategy is called passive immunity.

Already, Abraham has begun collecting blood samples from survivors of Ebola, Marburg, and other hemorrhagic fevers. The next step—and it can be a long and tedious one—is to isolate the B immune cells that produce the antibodies responsible for fighting each of the viruses. When he finds one, Abraham will then identify and sequence the specific immunoglobulin genes encoding those antibodies in the appropriate B cell.

Having those DNA sequences in hand, Abraham can make large quantities of the antibodies, allowing him to study their ability to neutralize the viruses in lab dishes and infected animals.

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.