Category: Featured

Amid High-Profile Outbreaks, Benefit of Widespread Asymptomatic Screening Remains Low

February 15th, 2019 in Featured, In The News

When a West African Ebola outbreak overtook inter­national headlines in 2014, the constant media attention was about more than the symptoms and consequences of the deadly virus. It was also about fear that the virus would spread far and wide.

Eleven people were treated for Ebola in the United States,1 most of whom contracted the disease in West Africa, and all but 2 recovered. Although the outbreak’s impact on Americans was infinitesimal compared with its impact in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the US cases caused outsized panic due to 1 factor: Ebola’s famously long incubation period of up to 3 weeks. Americans knew the numbers were small, but what if those official numbers were hiding something much, much bigger?


On one hand, the 2014 Ebola episode is a cautionary tale about the dangers of public panics. On the other hand, it is an example of something epidemiologists cannot avoid: new emerging diseases are appearing—and evolving—in humans, and they are not all easy to detect or contain.

Recently, some researchers have begun asking the ques­tion of whether patients ought to be preemptively screened for diseases and other health problems after traveling over­seas. John H. Connor, PhD, associate professor of micro­biology at Boston University’s School of Medicine and its National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories (NEIDL), said there are important reasons to get to the bottom of potential Ebola infections as soon as possible, particularly in the cases of health care workers who have traveled to Ebola outbreak zones and the family members or others with whom they have come into contact upon return.


Click to read full article on Contagion Live

Spotting Ebola in the Crowd

December 14th, 2018 in Featured, In The News

At a clinic in Liberia, people trickle in from the surrounding neighborhoods, shivering despite the warm air, reporting varying degrees of headaches and nausea. Many of them are anxious—it’s 2014 and an Ebola outbreak is underway and they fear the worst: that they, like some of their neighbors and loved ones, have contracted the highly fatal disease. One by one, they wait to be examined by a clinician, all the while mosquitoes float and buzz in the thick evening air.

During the early stages of Ebola, symptoms are often hard to distinguish from another disease endemic to the region, malaria, a mosquito-borne blood infection caused by a parasite. Without an instantaneous way of screening a patient’s blood, people sick with malaria, instead of being treated with antimalarial medication, could be placed into quarantine and surrounded by other ill people who ultimately might, in fact, have Ebola and be highly contagious.

That danger of being unable to diagnose Ebola—or malaria—in seconds or minutes, rather than hours or days, is one of the major deficiencies that contributed to the 2014–2016 West Africa Ebola crisis, according to the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

Click to read full article on BU Research

New Portable Diagnostic Test For Ebola And Malaria Has Big Public Health Implications

December 13th, 2018 in Featured, In The News

High fever, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain: These are all early symptoms of Ebola hemorrhagic fever. They’re also symptoms of malaria, a mosquito-borne blood infection that’s endemic in regions where Ebola tends to break out.

For public health officials working in West Africa during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, distinguishing between the two wasn’t always easy, says Dr. John Connor, associate professor of microbiology and researcher at Boston University. Connor is part of an international team working on a portable, easy-to-use, battery-powered test that can identify Ebola, as well as malaria and other diseases, in less than 30 minutes. Doing so, however, was critical.

“During the outbreak, one of the things that was, unfortunately, painfully obvious was that getting good diagnostics to the point that they were needed was difficult,” he says. “[Our] goal was to make something really simple where you don’t need a tremendous amount of training and people can pick it up very quickly. Current tests for Ebola are much more cumbersome, and for patients in rural areas, getting results can take days.”

Click to read full article on WBUR

Old Drug, New Tricks

November 19th, 2018 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

The inspiration stemmed from observations made during the 2014–2016 Ebola epidemic that swept through West Africa, infecting more than 28,000 people and killing more than 11,000 in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone alone. The outbreak attracted the attention of virologists from around the world, and several of them, including Robert Davey, noticed something intriguing: patients with Ebola who had been treated with amodiaquine, an antiviral medication typically used to treat malaria, were 31 percent less likely to die.

“People were saying ‘It’s interesting’; I wondered if it was important,” says Davey, a School of Medicine professor of microbiology and a researcher at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), who was working at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute at the time. “I thought we should test some [chemical] derivatives and see if we could find some improvement over the amodiaquine performance,” he says.

Davey and collaborators set out to learn exactly which parts of the amodiaquine molecule were inhibiting Ebola virus infection. Their findings, published on November 3, 2018, in Antiviral Research, show that modified amodiaquine derivatives are significantly less toxic and nearly 10 times more effective at blocking Ebola virus than the original amodiaquine formula that greatly reduced mortality during the West Africa outbreak.


Click to read full article on BU Today

NEIDL Researchers Create Tool to Study New Virus

September 5th, 2018 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

In recent years, traces of new zoonotic viruses—pathogens that live in animals and could potentially cause infectious diseases in humans—have been discovered in bats, fish, and other species around the world. But scientists have been stumped in their search for the complete genome for these viruses, the critical data that is needed to study their biology, and their potential dangers for humans.

But now, researchers at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) have created a tool that they say will unlock many of the mysteries of one of these new pathogens—a filovirus closely related to the Ebola and Marburg viruses—and help them determine whether it could cause disease in humans. Ebola and Marburg are among the most virulent and lethal viruses known to infect humans.

Called Lloviu virus (LLOV), the new filovirus was first discovered in 2002 in dead bats in a cave in Spain; it was found again in 2014, in dead bats in Hungary. It is not known whether LLOV sickened and killed the European bats (known as Schreiber’s long-fingered bats, they are not found in North or South America) or if it causes disease in any animal. As with so many other new viruses, the complete genome has not been found.

The NEIDL team was led by Elke Mühlberger, a School of Medicine associate professor of microbiology, who is one of the world’s leading filovirus researchers. Filoviruses are made up of single-stranded RNA instead of DNA.

Click to read full article on BU Today

Measles Touch Down in Bay State

September 4th, 2018 in Featured, In The News

Citing measles as “probably the most infectious human virus on the planet,” a Boston University professor of microbiology stressed the importance of vaccinations as state health officials confirmed a case of measles and warned others who may have been exposed.

The infected individual was at a number of locations in the Boston area, including Logan International Airport on Aug. 15. Other locations of concern include Lexington High School Library on Aug. 16, Lahey Hospital and Medical Center on Aug. 20 and 21, and the Irving H. Mabee Town Pool complex on Aug. 19.

Paul Duprex, a professor of microbiology at Boston University, has been studying measles for 20 years. According to Duprex, measles is highly contagious and — to the unvaccinated — a serious threat.

“It’s probably the most infectious human virus on the planet,” Duprex said, adding that the solution to ending these exposures is to vaccinate. He said the measles vaccine is “phenomenally good,” and “it’s more dangerous to get the disease than it is to get the vaccine.”


Click to read full article in Boston Herald

As Ebola Research Comes to Boston, Scientists Weigh Risks

September 4th, 2018 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

When it comes to biomedical research, Boston, Massachusetts, is the place to be.

“This is truly the biomedical mecca of the United States,” said Ronald B. Corley, PhD, director of Boston University’s (BU) National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories (NEIDL).

Although that may sound like something written by the chamber of commerce, it’s hard to dispute that the metropolitan area that is home to BU, Tufts, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has an uncommonly high concentration of the world’s leading medical and scientific experts.

Perhaps it was no surprise then, that when the National Institutes of Health sought grant applications from facilities hoping to study emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, a Boston lab was one of the winners.

Dr. Corley said NEIDL’s success in the grant application has everything to do with location.

“They were looking for a couple of things in the application; one was compelling support for emerging infectious disease research,” he told Contagion®. “The second was the opportunity to build these facilities and have research activities on medical campuses.”

BU checked off both of those items and was awarded a grant equal to 75% of the total cost of building the facility, which Corley said will be about $197 million.

Click to read full article on Contagion Live

BU’s Infectious Disease Lab Begins Ebola Research

August 22nd, 2018 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

Eight months after receiving final approval from the Boston Public Health Commission to conduct research at Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4), Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) has begun work with its first Level-4 pathogen, the Ebola virus.

“This is clearly an important step for the NEIDL,” says Ronald Corley, NEIDL director and a BU School of Medicine professor of microbiology. “This will permit us to fulfill our mission of studying emerging pathogens and developing diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for these pathogens, even those that require BSL-4 containment. It has taken a very long time to get to this point, but the time that has passed has not dampened our enthusiasm — and excitement — to be able to start BSL-4 work.”

NEIDL microbiologist Elke Mühlberger says the lab’s first Level 4 projects will examine how the Ebola virus damages cells in the liver, and why it triggers such a powerful inflammatory response. Answers to those questions, she says, could speed the development of a therapy for Ebola virus disease, which sickened tens of thousands of people and led to more than 11,000 deaths in West Africa in a 2014–2016 outbreak, and sickened 59 people and killed 29 in an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo this past May. The country’s health ministry reported a new outbreak Aug. 1, which has killed at least 20 people.

Click to read full article on WBUR

After a Decade of Squabbles, BU’s Biolab is in Business

August 20th, 2018 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates

The package that Elke Mühlberger had been waiting a decade to receive — a gray hard-plastic case a little bigger than a microwave oven — arrived in Boston earlier this month, after traveling nearly 2,000 miles from Montana. The cargo was so prized it required two carefully vetted drivers and GPS tracking on both the truck and the box.

Dressed in spacesuit-like protective garb in her laboratory, Mühlberger, a microbiologist, dug through several layers of packing materials and dry ice until she found a small, shatterproof plastic box, in which several tiny tubes nestled among paper towels.

Those tubes contained frozen samples of the deadly Ebola virus and its cousin, Marburg virus. And their arrival launched, at long last, the research program within the Biosafety Level 4 laboratory at Boston University. Level 4 labs are authorized to do research on disease-causing microbes for which there is no treatment or vaccine.

“It was a great day for us,” Mühlberger said. “It sounds weird — it’s a package full of deadly viruses — but it was like Christmas.”


Click to read full article in Boston Globe

Researchers at BU begin Experimenting with Ebola

August 6th, 2018 in Featured, In The News, Lab Updates, Video

A lab in Boston was approved to study one of the world’s deadliest viruses.

On Thursday, Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) announced in a press release that they have started experimenting with the Ebola virus.

NEIDL microbiologist Elke Mühlberger said the lab’s first project will examine how the Ebola virus damages cells in the liver and why it triggers such a powerful inflammatory response.

Mühlberger said the answers to those questions could speed the development of how to treat the Ebola virus disease. In a 2014-2016 outbreak, the virus led to more than 11,000 deaths in West Africa. And a few months ago in May, an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo killed 29 people.

The researchers at NEIDL are also experimenting with the Marbug virus. Like Ebola, Marburg is deadly and causes convulsions and bleeding of mucous membranes, skin and organs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mühlberger said their plans include at least three projects involving both the Ebola and Marburg viruses. But the first step of their work will be growing the rare Level-4 pathogens to produce enough materials for their experiments.

Click to read full article & watch video on Boston 25 News