Ebola-Fighting Technologies Come to the Fore

Anastasia Thrift

October 8, 2014

4 Min Read
Ebola-Fighting Technologies Come to the Fore

After Ebola hit U.S. soil September 30, interest in the disease reached a new fervor. The virus is notorious for the severity of its symptoms, which can include internal and external bleeding and prove fatal for many patients. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), no proven treatment for Ebola has yet to be developed.

Several companies are responding to WHO call for the life sciences industry to help fight the Ebola crisis. Medical technology innovators have come forward with treatment ideas that will help WHO identify "innovative health technologies that can be used for infection prevention and control (IPC), diagnosis, and supportive care," which is a call to action on listed on its website.

One promising technology that could help do just that was developed by  Harvard University, which announced in September that it had created a "biospleen" device. The blood-cleansing device from Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering fights sepsis; a report in the Journal of Infectious Diseases a decade ago suggested some aspects of the Ebola virus mimic the activity of severe bacterial infections, leading to septic shock, so treating a bloodstream infection could ward off inflammation, blood clotting, organ damage, and death.

A Washington Post story on the breakthrough said the device is effective against 90 pathogens, including Ebola, E. coli, and HIV. The Harvard researchers say they've created something that can approach pathogens in a novel way with this fluidic device, which acts like a dialysis machine and removes all varieties of living and dead microbes and toxins.

At the same time, ExThera Medical Corp. (Berkeley, CA) has promoted its Seraph Microbind Affinity Blood Filter as a tool to treat Ebola. Last week, the company received funding to complete the first clinical trial and commercialization of Seraph. It has marketed Seraph as a "Rapid, Device-Based Therapy for Treatment of Ebola and Marburg Infections."

Company representatives explained in a release that Seraph uses the activity of naturally-occurring heparin molecules to achieve results via a specific binding process. This device is not cleared by the FDA for distribution in the United States, however, ExThera President and CEO Robert S. Ward, PhD, says the newly secured funding can help the company "move rapidly toward initial regulatory approval and the commercialization of our breakthrough hemoperfusion device." 

Seraph would hit one of four strains of Ebola, ZEBOV, the species identified in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. After initial symptoms--fever, vomiting, severe diarrhea--the immune system is depleted and unable to respond to the high concentration of Ebola in blood, and the body rapidly succumbs to the virus. In most cases, the mortality rate is at least 50%, although it can be substantially higher in remote areas in Africa.

The Centers for Disease Control lists the current treatments for Ebola disease as ones that let patients' immune systems strengthen to fight the virus after infection. These include providing intravenous fluids and electrolyte balance, maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating other infections if they occur.

Yet another Ebola-fighting technology is the TRU-D SmartUVC, a UVC automated disinfection robot that is already in use in Liberia to help control the disease. Installed as the first automated decontamination system to be used in Africa on August 20, the TRU-D is being used in hospital environments, including Ebola treatment units, to halt the spread of the disease.

The efficacy of TRU-D against the disease can be found in a study titled "Sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation of Lassa, vaccinia, and Ebola viruses dried on surfaces"

With Seraph, the Biospleen, and TRU_D, the life sciences industry takes a more direct approach and works on the bloodstream of infected patients to actively combat a growing global health concern.

The current Ebola epidemic is the largest in history. As of October 3, according to the Centers for Disease Control, incidents in Guinea, Liberia & Sierra Leone have totaled 7470 cases of the disease with 3431 deaths.

Anastasia Thrift is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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