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On the Cusp of an Ebola Vaccine

Maria Croyle, professor of pharmaceutics, is getting closer to a vaccine for ebola. Her research has proven effective in both rodent and primate subjects.

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Pharmacy professor Maria Croyle in her lab.

Maria Croyle, professor of pharmaceutics, in her lab. [Photo by Marsha Miller] 

Half a world away in western Africa, the deadly virus Ebola stirs terror in the hearts of Guinea residents as more than 121 confirmed diagnosis and 74 resulting deaths have been attributed to the pathogen since January 2014.

The particular strain of the virus, known as Zaire Ebola, is one of the deadliest strains of the pathogen, with a fatality rate of approximately 90 percent. There is no known treatment or preventative vaccine until now.

Maria Croyle, professor of pharmaceutics in the College of Pharmacy, is on the verge of a research advancement that promises to change the game in the fight against ebola. Her lab has developed a one-dose vaccine that has proven effective in both rodent and primate subjects.

Croyle’s lab has partnered with Canadian researchers Heinz Feldmann and Gary Kobinger since 2007 to develop a non-injectable vaccine that is quick acting. The vaccine can be administered via the nasal passage.

“We had to take into consideration that most ebola outbreaks occur in Africa in regions where there are likely no facilities to support safe injections,” Croyle says. “An oral or nasal administration is much more portable when moving from village to village.”

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Their research has yielded a small quantity of vaccine that has protected the animal subjects from the most severe reactions to the virus even after repeated exposure. Many do not get sick, and those that do become ill show improved survival and recovery rates.

After compiling the data from their work with primates, the researchers will submit their findings for review and publication later this year. The next challenge for Croyle and her partners is to find a way to produce large quantities of the vaccine. Croyle says increased funding is needed to advance the research project to the next level.

“We are on the cusp of having an effective vaccine,” she says. “We’re only a step or two away from an effective weapon against ebola.”

In Pursuit of Health graphic


This story is part of our yearlong series “In Pursuit of Health,” covering medical news and research happening across the university.