The Promise of ZMapp
On December 10, 2014 TIME magazine named “The Ebola Fighters” its person of the year. These people deserve this recognition for their bravery and efforts in going out to the field and combating the epidemic that is affecting West Africa, especially Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Although the number of reported cases and deaths continues to be on the rise in these three countries, these brave Ebola fighters are also receiving help in squelching the epidemic from scientists in the lab who are working on promising treatments. One such treatment is known as ZMapp, a cocktail of three antibodies that has been effective in the treatment of US aid workers who contracted Ebola. Antibodies are proteins that cells in the immune system produce to target and destroy harmful pathogens. However, in addition to the antibodies that humans naturally produce, antibodies made outside the body and then given as a treatment can be helpful — ZMapp is an example of this.
The antibodies in ZMapp work by targeting and binding to the outer protein coat of the Ebola virus. By binding to this part of the virus, they prevent the virus from in turn binding to cells; when the virus is unable to bind to cells, it is unable to replicate within cells and thus unable to spread quickly within in the body. By preventing the virus from replicating, ZMapp keeps the virus at a level that the body can effectively fight back against and gives the body much needed time to prepare an effective immune response.
ZMapp has shown extremely promising and positive results in treating infected humans and in experiments with macaque monkeys — a group of 18 monkeys were given ZMapp and they all survived after being infected with Ebola virus.
However, a current obstacle with ZMapp is being able to mass produce it.
At the end of the summer, the mass production of ZMapp was occurring through genetically engineered tobacco plants at a facility in Kentucky. However, with the increasing demand for more treatments as the epidemic continues, US federal officials are involving more facilities in the production of the treatment. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether production of ZMapp will reach the ideal level for diminishing the epidemic. More research needs to be done about the optimal dose of treatment which will then help determine how much ZMapp needs to be produced. For example, if the necessary dosage is less than what was initially expected, the overall amount of ZMapp that needs to be produced can be decreased accordingly.
The promise and effectiveness of ZMapp is exciting in a time when news and media mostly report about the spread of the Ebola epidemic. Here’s to hoping that ZMapp as a treatment continues to improve, and that its protection against Ebola can be experienced by all those who need it.