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New Ebola Drug 100% Effective In Monkeys

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the quick-somebody-call-hoffman dept.

Medicine 129

TrisexualPuppy writes "A team of scientists at Boston University has created a cure for the Ebola virus, first discovered in 1976. After setting the correct dosages, all monkeys tested with the vaccine survived with only mild effects. No tests have been performed on humans yet, as outbreaks happen infrequently and are difficult to track. Quoting NPR: '[The drug] contains snippets of RNA derived from three of the virus's seven genes. That "payload" is packaged in protective packets of nucleic acid and fat molecules. These little stealth missiles attach to the Ebola virus's replication machinery, "silencing" the genes from which they were derived. That prevents the virus from making more viruses.'"

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129 comments

first post? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396444)

Seriously though why wasnt this thought of this before?
It seems simple enough to figure out the RNA sequence of a virus, and then create a random RNA that matches parts of that RNA that do not occur in human transcription/translation services.
Granted the latter may be a bit difficult but that's what we have monkeys for... test and test again.
Because of high rate of mutation it may be a difficult for flu or the HIV but theoretically it should work.

Re:first post? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396488)

"It seems simple enough to figure out the RNA sequence of a virus,"
I don't think it was 30 years ago.

Re:first post? (5, Insightful)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396538)

I don't think it was 30 years ago.

Exactly. I talked with one of my contacts at the Atlanta CDC about this. She said that little was said at that point about exactly how they procured this method, but it is something possible only with new technologies that have evolved in the past decade. That, and the limited amount of manpower dedicated to such a project mean that unless you're really lucky, it's going to take the full 30 years.

I wonder how many lives will eventually be saved and what awards will be gotten because of this.

Re:first post? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396676)

Historically there have been less than 1000 confirmed deaths from ebolavirus since the first recognized cases in 1976. It is a blood born disease that is transmitted through contact or ingestion. Consumption of bush meat (monkeys) is a suspected culprit. The big concern is that the virus will mutate or merge with other pathogens and spread more easily. One could only imagine an ebola like venereal disease. AIDS with a 90% death rate and a two week period from infection to death. These scientists should be praised up and down for their work. It sounds like a true silver bullet vaccine and technique that may usher in a new wave of treatment for other deadly RNA borne diseases. Imagine a vaccine against the common cold or influenza. Now you'd be saving significant percentages of population.

Re:first post? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396832)

Except that 2 weeks is not long to spread. AIDS kills so many because it takes so long to get to work.

Re:first post? (1)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398836)

I can't imagine the fallout that would occur if an ebola victim went to a major international airport. It'd be horrific, and even if, as in previous cases, the ebola virus "burned out" fast, it could be an international crisis.

Re:first post? (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 3 years ago | (#32399554)

There, you're realistically describing an airborne version of such a virus, not an STD, and probably not even the multiple bodily fluids borne version that is the baseline Ebola virus. An STD is really a disease that spreads so poorly only direct membrane to bodily fluid contact tends to spread it. STDs typically won't spread dry skin to dry skin, or by fluids if those are exposed to sunlight or cold for even a few minutes, and they die very, very quickly if exposed to many common environmental stressors other germs resist, for example, pool Chlorine or hot weather.
      I don't want to make light of your comment - certainly, there are scenarios, for example Person A dies of Ebola at airport B, plane that brought the victim has already gone on to next stop with new passengers seated in that row, that could easily cause, as you say, an international crisis. But these are possibilities even if the disease doesn't infect anyone else.
      Fortunately, Ebola is very far from developing the protein coat it would need to allow airborne exposure.

Re:first post? (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398052)

One could only imagine an ebola like venereal disease. AIDS with a 90% death rate and a two week period from infection to death.

That sounds frightening- and I'm sure it would be if you actually caught it- but it would quite likely be self-limiting since people would probably die before they were likely to spread it to many- if any- other partners (two week max. window, reduced by period they were visibly ill during), and the trail of infected people would be clear- unlike "normal" AIDS where the delay of symptoms over years could make that *much* less obvious.

It's been said that ebola's aggressiveness in killing people quickly and visibly- and the fact it kills of the host quickly- is the reason it hasn't spread further.

Re:first post? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396820)

I wonder how many lives will eventually be saved and what awards will be gotten because of this.

That's fantastic. Now they'll be able to starve to death instead.

Re:first post? (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397724)

I don't think it was 30 years ago.

Further to your point, this treatment is heavily dependent on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) techniques, which are very much a stock-in-trade tool of molecular biology now, but has only been technically possible since (IIRC) 1976 when the DNA polymerase from Thermophilus aquaticus was first isolated. The components required for the reactions were available by about 1980, and I think the first automatic machines became available in about '83 or '84.

They were, of course, under patent and very expensive. Nowadays, it seems everybody has a PCR machine in his kitchen, but replication of RNA fragments is still a bit more involved than replication of DNA, since (for one reason) RNA tends to be a lot less stable. I have no idea how much a dose of this treatment would cost, but I would bet it would be very, very expensive.

Re:first post? (4, Informative)

RDW (41497) | more than 3 years ago | (#32399282)

'She said that little was said at that point about exactly how they procured this method, but it is something possible only with new technologies that have evolved in the past decade.'

Yes, their method clearly depends on RNAi (RNA interference), for which the key paper only came out in 1998, and the Nobel Committee obviously didn't regard the discovery as 'simple enough'!:

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2006/adv.html [nobelprize.org]

It wasn't until 2001 that RNAi was demonstrated in mammalian cells, so its use as a standard tool in molecular biology only dates back to the last decade. To apply this sort of strategy to Ebola also requires knowledge of its genome sequence, which also wasn't complete until the 90s, as well as an effective method of getting the active molecules into infected cells (like the lipid-based packaging approach used here). There is indeed active research aimed at applying RNAi to other viruses, including HIV, but it's far from straightforward.

Re:first post? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396584)

Because it only affect africans. Nobody dies in the US from it, so it's not really popular with research grants donators.

Re:first post? (2, Interesting)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396692)

Also, the people that will need the drug have little or no ability to pay for it. It takes A LOT of money to get a drug approved, if the market for the drug itself is not there then the work just does not get done. The technique used will be applied to other, more profitable issues, so some good comes of it in the end.
It might be worthwhile to give drug companies a tax break for donating information that leads to effective cures for less profitable conditions... I'm sure there are many substances that have shown potential to help conditions that only have a few tens of thousands of sufferers or have many very poor sufferers and are thus a net loss if developed via normal channels.

Re:first post? (2, Informative)

burnin1965 (535071) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397518)

the people that will need the drug have little or no ability to pay for it. It takes A LOT of money to get a drug approved, if the market for the drug itself is not there then the work just does not get done

This is also an issue for people who can pay for a drug, even United States citizens who have health insurance. There have been recent news articles highlighting the fact that the United States is facing a shortage of various anti-venoms [popularmechanics.com] because corporations are either stopping production or never bothered to develop a manufacturing process because there is no significant profit potential.

It might be worthwhile to give drug companies a tax break for donating information that leads to effective cures for less profitable conditions

This is an excellent idea but I would even go so far as to suggest taking out the "leads to effective cures" requirement as it can take a long time to reap the benefits and corporations would be more likely to utilize the offer if it provided an immediate tax benefit.

The recent move by GlaxoSmithKline [slashdot.org] that we all read about is a good example of a case where a corporation should be given a tax break.

However, tax breaks are far from enough. The only reason GSK was even researching a malaria vaccine was because of the huge profit potential from millions of infections globally. There are numerous ailments that will never receive corporate financing because there is no profit motive. Note the scorpion anti-venom case in the previously mentioned article where all the anti-venom is produced non-profit by a university professor and no corporation is willing to step up to create and sell a product.

Ultimately there are a vast number of medical and non-medical ventures that should be funded by the public because they do not present any significant profit potential to entice corporations but society would gain both tangible and intangible benefits.

Sadly the direction the United States appears to be headed is to a purist position of worship and submission to the almighty corporation, gross margins and a "greed is good" mentality. This can be seen in reading some of the articles on the anti-venom issue [red-alerts.com] that suggest a solution is tort reform and easing of FDA regulations. Of course these arguments are a misnomer as these proponents admit themselves that the issue is a lack of profit potential and the suggested tort reform and easing of regulations are likely a one time benefit on the Internal Rate of Return calculation used to determine if a project is financially viable. The end result would still be no cures or research for low or no profit situations with the addition of federal protection for corporations against law suits from the public and elimination of regulations that are in place to help prevent the conditions that result in law suits in the first place.

Re:first post? (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398028)

It might be worthwhile to give drug companies a tax break for donating information that leads to effective cures for less profitable conditions

This is an excellent idea but I would even go so far as to suggest taking out the "leads to effective cures" requirement as it can take a long time to reap the benefits and corporations would be more likely to utilize the offer if it provided an immediate tax benefit.

While I agree that this would greatly increase the incentive, I think that companies would then donate floods of information that they knew or suspected would in the end prove unproductive... because they reap an immediate benefit and that looks good on the quarterlies... If I have a dog, I expect it to act true to it's nature (i.e. "like a dog"). You can pretty much count on corporations to behave in a corporate manner. Maybe a structured schedule of small breaks for information and later "bonus" benefits for the stuff that pays off... I would even go so far as give better initial benefits to companies that develop a track record of contributing information that payed off... as well as the aforementioned bonus.

Re:first post? (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398046)

It takes A LOT of money to get a drug approved, if the market for the drug itself is not there then the work just does not get done.

That raises a question: should cures for illnesses with nearly 100% kill ratio be held to the same standards as cures for illnesses that are unlikely to kill you? After all, if the drug is guaranteed to kill the virus, then as long as it's less likely to kill you than the virus is it's in your best interests to take it. In the case of Ebola, drugs with mortality rates less 50% (90% for some strains of the virus) are going to increase your chances of survival, so does it really make any sense to keep them from market even if they kill 1 in 10 patient?

Re:first post? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32398752)

Because it only affect africans. Nobody dies in the US from it, so it's not really popular with research grants donators.

While I disagree with what you just said on many levels, I do feel compelled to point out Ebola Reston [wikipedia.org]; named after Reston, Virginia, where the virus nearly wiped out the eastern seaboard.

Re:first post? (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396654)

Because ebola is not a huge problem (yet)? It doesn't appear very contagious, kills rapidly - so may self-quarantine.

Re:first post? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396778)

Good idea. Lets wait until it is a real epidemic.

Re:first post? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396678)

Seriously, why didn't you think of this sooner? It seems so simple, after all.

Re:first post? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397214)

I'm fairly sure I thought of it quite soon after I first learned how a virus works, in the same way that people thought of making a machine that works like a bird thousands of years ago. The step between thinking of what to do and doing it is huge. In this case, even the step between thinking of how to do it and actually doing it is pretty large.

Re:first post? (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396750)

Seriously though why wasnt this thought of this before?

Thought of? Sure, it's probably been thought of many times by people in the field. But having the technical ability to make it happen for real, that's new. There's several parts to that too, such as the ability to analyze the virus at that level (not been around very long, expensive but not as costly as it used to be), the ability to figure out what bits to interfere with where the virus will find it difficult to mutate and yet which won't harm the host (hard!) and the ability to manufacture and deliver the result. In particular, delivery of RNAi-based vaccines has been problematic in the past; if that's been cracked, it's a big breakthrough in itself.

Re:first post? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396942)

Then why didn't you do it?

Re:first post? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32397254)

Reminded me of plum island story (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plum_Island_%28novel%29) where the scientists try to sell a cure for ebola on the black market.

Re:first post? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32397434)

At least someone thought of it. Now it will be safe for South Africans to continue screwing their dead brothers wives and generally everything that moves, indiscriminately, including primates. That is how the Ebola plague is propagated there.
      But at least they are moral enough to fight uselessly to ban pr0n from the web. Funny South Africans!
           

Re:first post? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32398248)

Everything, once accomplished, seems simple.

What seems to be difficult is pulling your head out of your ass.

Remember (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396484)

This does not mean you can eschew the use of a condom when fucking monkeys.

Re:Remember (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32397320)

This does not mean you can eschew the use of a condom when fucking monkeys.

Nor when you're fucking niggers. [chimpout.com]

Or do I repeat myself?

Re:Remember (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32398826)

More inane, stupid comments from the braindead Slashdot 'intelligent' crowd.
This 'research' is a fraud. All vivisection is medical fraud. Animal models do not predict human outcomes.
92% of drugs which pass animal experiments, FAIL human experiments (AKA 'clinical trials').

Re:Remember (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32399414)

or wetbacks

Outbreak (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396506)

That's good. At least now we won't have to nuke a small town when the inhabitants become infected..

dog vagino (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396510)

Yes but goat, Ebola is only the thing that they have there which nobody is to the care about it it. My queston is, are you sexxi on the loveng? My bed is a boot!!!!y BLOOOOOOD!

Human testing (1)

icedcool (446975) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396518)

who's up?

Re:Human testing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396528)

Anyone with Ebola presumably

Re:Human testing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396558)

Good news everyone, you're monkeys! - Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth

Re:Human testing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396640)

Why don't they do all of these tests on humans from the very beginning? Is testing on monkeys supposed to be more "ethical" or some bullshit?

Re:Human testing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396686)

Yeah, for some stupid reason they think a live person is worth more than a live monkey.

Re:Human testing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32398534)

That is stupid. No animal is worth more than another animal, humans included.

You want to solve a human problem? Use humans.

critter testing is "cheaper" (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397922)

You off a Howler monkey during a test you just need to do your report (necropsy ect) and get another monkey

Off a human during a test and you have
1 a much larger report
2 a very detailed autopsy
3 a report to Legal to make sure your "assets" are covered
4 a possible lawsuit from the next of kin
5 it gets a bit harder to get more humans when you have a track record of offing your volunteers

Time for the SuperEbola? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396546)

Currently, ebola burns itself out pretty fast because of its kill rate. If we get a resistant ebola, could it perhaps increase its lifetime and make it spread further? Maybe we should leave this one alone?

Re:Time for the SuperEbola? (3, Informative)

Low Ranked Craig (1327799) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396592)

This is not the same as antibiotics.

Re:Time for the SuperEbola? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396732)

HIV adapts to antivirals.

Fortunately it is not especially transmissible and most people that are undergoing treatment are at least somewhat responsible about not exposing others.

Re:Time for the SuperEbola? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32397696)

Just because it is a virus and not a bacteria doesn't mean that evolution does not apply. Virus can develop immunity just as bacteria or higher organisms do.

Re:Time for the SuperEbola? (1)

izomiac (815208) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397530)

Viruses don't really have a lifespan. Ebola is short-lived because it's so deadly. While resistance generally does make a virus/bacteria/parasite less effective overall (resistance comes at a cost), random mutations will do the same a lot more quickly. Apparently that's not a successful strategy for the virus.

That said, if we manage to keep people from dying but not keep them from spreading the virus then that would be bad. Obviously, to get these antivirals, you're already in the quarantine. Unlike your typical bacterial infection, Ebola is serious enough that you're going to be isolated and gladly take every single dose of your medicine until you (and your doctors) are sure that you are no longer infected.

Yea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396554)

No bloody painful death for monkeys!

Re:Yea! (1)

workbench (875813) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398088)

No, we get a bunch of autistic monkeys instead.

Expect a statement from renowned scientists and vaccine experts Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey soon.

This brings to mind... (4, Interesting)

eexaa (1252378) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396580)

...wouldn't this be a great generic treatment for all infections by viruses?

If not, I'd like to know the reason.

Re:This brings to mind... (1)

Dragoniz3r (992309) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396618)

Because perhaps the reproduction genes of other viruses don't function in the same fashion, and thus cannot be attacked in this way? That's what comes to mind first.

Re:This brings to mind... (2, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396626)

It sounds similar to Phage Therapy [wikipedia.org], long story short you have to identify and isolate the virus in question before you can treat it, because there are so many variants of most viruses you need tons of phages to treat what we the masses think of as a single virus. If Ebola doesn't change too much, or if they found critical parts of Ebola that never change between variants, it might be possible to attack those, but targeted approaches don't work against disparate viruses.

Re:This brings to mind... (2, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397078)

It sounds similar to Phage Therapy [wikipedia.org], long story short you have to identify and isolate the virus in question before you can treat it, because there are so many variants of most viruses you need tons of phages to treat what we the masses think of as a single virus. If Ebola doesn't change too much, or if they found critical parts of Ebola that never change between variants, it might be possible to attack those, but targeted approaches don't work against disparate viruses.

What if one day we'll be able to synthesize a therapy while the patient is waiting in the waiting room? Just consider the leaps in DNA sequencing. Once a tedious manual process where we were lucky to decipher a few dozen nucleotides in a row, now a technology with the prospect of sequencing a person's whole DNA for a few dozen bucks. (I admit that I'm not aware of the precise state of the art today.) A century from now - if our civilization won't collapse in the meantime - we might be able to synthesize a viral disease killer for a virus we've never seen before in a few hours. Don't underestimate clever people with fast supercomputers and vast databases. Well, it this is a pipe dream, certainly much less so than, say, manned interstellar travel.

Re:This brings to mind... (1)

dookiesan (600840) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398240)

There's hope it can be brought down to a few hundred dollars soon, but sequencing a new human genome currently costs several thousand dollars.

Re:This brings to mind... (1)

mutube (981006) | more than 3 years ago | (#32399356)

What if one day we'll be able to synthesize a therapy while the patient is waiting in the waiting room?

The problem is the wide variation in viruses even within a single host. Even if you can synthesize a therapy against the most common form in a host, those that are not suppressed will take dominance (as with any drug resistance). The ideal solution, and what will hopefully happen in the future, is the ability to initiate therapy with multiple target drugs to effectively corner the virus out of viability - RNAi is a great way to achieve this because of the (relatively) rapid synthesis of variant molecules.

Re:This brings to mind... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396680)

RNAi has been a very promising technique for years now and will definitely bring good therapies against many diseases (not only viral, by the way), but the high rate of mutation in for example HIV limits its efficiency. Of course,
1) the siRNA doesn't have to fit the target gene precisely, only good enough, and
2) you could use a mixture of randomly mutated siRNA strains.

Re:This brings to mind... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396726)

It needs to be heavily patented by pharmaceuticals so they can capitalize on the research done by scientists.

Re:This brings to mind... (5, Informative)

nashv (1479253) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396746)

The method with which the "drug" works is called RNA intereference [wikipedia.org]. RNAi is more or less a standard method in molecular laboratories. Unfortunately, the efficacy of RNAi in different cells and for different proteins varies a lot, for reasons that are poorly understood. Further, RNA is rather unstable in water, and delivering substantial doses of RNA to cells in an organism has remainded challenging.

Morever, all viruses do not start with an RNA-based genome. Some DNA based viruses use promoters for their genes that cause very strong expression of the genes, like the CMV promoter [PDF alert] [wjgnet.com], which is used in isolation to create "over expression" in molecular biology. RNAi is typically very poor against such strong promoters.

Ebola is a virus that is relatively slow replicating in the initial stages. It is not a particularly ingenious design as compared to say the flu virus. This gives the RNAi a chance to work against it.

In short, I don't want to say _never_ (that'll just be ignorant), but as yet, RNAi needs a lot of research and is perhaps not the best strategy for all viruses.

Good? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32397888)

Well, I guess the niggers don't have to worrie about Ebola now!

Re:This brings to mind... (1)

mutube (981006) | more than 3 years ago | (#32399304)

Viruses that integrate into the genome of host cells would likely not be removed by this mechanism. It may be possible to inhibit the virus enough to prevent spread between cells, but persistence down cell lineages may mean lifetime treatment is required. That said, if we can suppress replication enough to prevent onward transmission eradication would be the result.

How will we keep the African population in check? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396608)

Seriously, they can't even feed themselves. Rabbits must multiply.

100% effective in FIVE monkeys (3, Insightful)

Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396634)

Before you start declaring a CURE!!! look at the number of test subjects. Preventing death in five monkeys is not exactly a cure. It's a very promising start, but they need to test it in non-infected humans to make sure it's not going to cause some odd problems and to get max dosages worked out.

Ebola's death rate is so high that this treatment would have to be extremely dangerous to keep it form being used. Death rates are in the 80-90% range now, so if it dropped them to even just 50% it's worth a large risk.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396674)

Five monkey more than you've cured.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32399062)

They don't count! The scientists gave them the virus in the first place!

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396708)

Ebola has 90% mortality rate, if 5 monkeys survived without much hiccup then we can be very confident the stuff is working.

the lead scientist guy:
http://www.bumc.bu.edu/microbiology/research-and-research-themes/faculty-and-their-research/thomas-w-geisbert/

looks like this year's Nobel entrant.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1)

yargnad (1456405) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396788)

Um, do the maths. 100% effective in five monkeys scales out to 100% effective in 5 million monkeys in my arithmetic book. But then again my books are published in Texas....

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1)

pz (113803) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397030)

Um, do the maths. 100% effective in five monkeys scales out to 100% effective in 5 million monkeys in my arithmetic book. But then again my books are published in Texas....

This is a standard EE/CS/engineering view where everything is deterministic, or very nearly so.

As an EE-turned-biologist, one of the big things I had to get my head around is that like it or not, Biology is messy. Very messy. Whereas in Engineering, models that are accurate to 1% are considered adequate, and 0.1% good, in Biology, models that are accurate to merely 50% are considered good, and above that is excellent. Biology is messy. There are many, many, many uncontrolled variables, most of which are unobserved or not even contemplated.

Just because 100% of five monkeys were cured (which is a FARKING STUNNING result), it does not mean that the next five will also be cured. Or the five after that. Or the five done in another lab. Or the hundred after that. It gives a good indication that this will be the case, but assuming that 100% of five can be extrapolated to mean 100% of any number in Biology is going to get you in a lot of trouble.

Five is a very, very good start (and might well result in a Nobel prize for the first time we've cured a viral disease, if, in fact, it turns out the virus has been erradicated and not just suppressed or made dormant). I look forward to seeing the results replicated and extended.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397352)

"It gives a good indication that this will be the case, but assuming that 100% of five can be extrapolated to mean 100% of any number in Biology is going to get you in a lot of trouble."

I want to point out that he was being sarcastic, since I'm not sure if you picked up on that or not.

The hint was the bit about Texas, which is well known for throwing around bunk science to push religious or political views.

He basically said the same thing you did, just in a lot less space.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32397502)

Because 5 monkeys obviously automagically scales to 5 million monkeys. :)
http://xkcd.com/605/

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32397446)

I refer everyone to XKCD and Extrapolation.
http://xkcd.com/605/

It saves time and protects folks that have insufficient education to see the sarcasm tags inherent in your comment.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (4, Insightful)

phoenix321 (734987) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396880)

A mortality rate of 80% of out 5 monkeys, 4 would have died. If 0 died in the vaccine group, it is a pretty significant finding.

Maybe someone here can be bothered to draw up the exact significance, but I'm pretty sure it will be a percentage surprisingly high for a sample of 5 individuals, since the mortality is so high to begin with.

For example with rabies, the mortality rate is a solid 100%. Managing to save even 1 infected individual is nothing short of a monumental achievement, as in all recorded history, we only have 3 survivors total, with Jeanna Giese being the first and the 2 others with the course derived from her treatment. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milwaukee_protocol [wikipedia.org] - so these 3 survivor make up a pretty high significance when compared to 0 before.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32397002)

This is one test on 5 monkeys. It would have to be reproduced to exclude any environmental/chemical anomalies (it happens). Then of course it has to be tested in humans, where it may or may not be effective. However this is a big step forward.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (5, Informative)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398796)

The p-value is 0.00032 by my off-the-cuff calculation (pbinom(0, 5, 0.8) in R.) So yeah, it's pretty significant. That being said, sample sizes this small still do tend to make people nervous -- the p-value is calculated assuming that the monkeys in question represent a good sample of the population, and doesn't account for lab-specific or family-specific effects. (Where were the monkeys bred? How closely are they related? What sub-population do they belong to? Etc.) So we can certainly accept the finding for what it is, but regulatory bodies will, with good reason, want to see larger animal trials before approving even limited human use.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1)

phoenix321 (734987) | more than 3 years ago | (#32399432)

Thanks for the calculation, you are of course right with the small population that is quite possible not really representative for all genotypes. Nonetheless, it's quite good against a deadly virus like this.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1)

JJJK (1029630) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396998)

You are right, they still need to test it on humans - and the death rates really make the "cure" thing seem unimportant.

But five monkeys aren't that few if you consider it was 30000 times the lethal dosage. Sounds to me like testing bomb-squad armor by dropping an atomic bomb on it - five times.

I doubt that we'll see this being treated as the breakthrough that it is without calling it something that it isn't yet.

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397294)

Before you start declaring a CURE!!! look at the number of test subjects. Preventing death in five monkeys is not exactly a cure.

It was for those 5 monkeys. Yes it does not mean it would be 100% effective in 20,000 monkeys or 1 human but it's a hell of a start. But you're right about the story summary being sensationalist. What do you expect here though?

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (3, Informative)

izomiac (815208) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397658)

At 85% mortality, the chance of all five monkeys surviving due to random chance would only be 15% ^ 5 = 0.0076%, which is well below the traditional alpha level of 5%. It'd take a mortality rate of 45% before you could say that, so for deadly diseases you don't need huge sample sizes to show effectiveness, though you would need a larger sample size to measure the size of the effect. The researchers have a very good claim that the treatment lowers the mortality rate of the tested strain of Ebola in monkeys. Of course, adapting this treatment to humans probably isn't going to be trivial. (You do have a point about "cure", though I think we all realize the overall quality level of science news reports in the popular media.)

Re:100% effective in FIVE monkeys (1)

masterwit (1800118) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397886)

100 Percent Effective

Tsu Dho Nimh, your right! I was twitching as soon as I read that...give me a confidence interval instead, and maybe we will all sleep a little bit better at night!

HIV/AIDS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396670)

Could this RNA technique be applied to the HIV virii family as well ? If so, this could be some monumental achievement.

wow, great, good job... (0, Troll)

Titan1080 (1328519) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396772)

Now if they can find a cure for flesh eating bacteria, they'll be able to cure 8 people a year, instead of just 5... Seriously, work on a disease that is actually a threat, guys...

MonkeyBoy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32396806)

Historically there have been less than 1000 confirmed deaths from ebolavirus since the first recognized cases in 1976. It is a blood born disease that is transmitted through contact or ingestion. Consumption of bush meat (monkeys) is a suspected culprit. The big concern is that the virus will mutate or merge with other pathogens and spread more easily. One could only imagine an ebola like venereal disease. AIDS with a 90% death rate and a two week period from infection to death. These scientists should be praised up and down for their work. It sounds like a true silver bullet vaccine and technique that may usher in a new wave of treatment for other deadly RNA borne diseases. Imagine a vaccine against the common cold or influenza. Now you'd be saving significant % of population.

Yeah but did they patent the process? (1)

aapold (753705) | more than 3 years ago | (#32396826)

Because they could probably make more by keeping it under wraps and suing the crap out of anyone else who tries this...

Problems with curing all diseases/viruses (1, Interesting)

cjjjer (530715) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397072)

Viruses and disease is a way for mother nature to keep the balance of life, by taking this away we risk the possibility of killing off our species even faster. I only hope that I live long enough to watch 90% of the human population die because of our stupidity even though I may die as well it will be epic...

Huh (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397098)

Since when does cure = vaccine?

Actually, this is more of a cure and definitely a form of genetic therapy (although the genetic material isn't incorporated into the patient's genome). The scientists used RNAi in which sequences of RNA complementary to the viral RNA are injected into the patient. When the complementary sequences bind together, they activate innate cellular defenses [wikipedia.org] against double stranded RNA which destroy the genetic material, thus preventing the virus from replicating within the cell. If enough interfering RNA is present in the host for a long enough period of time, the virus will simply burn itself out.

Question or 2 who's answers I'd like to know (1)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397156)

How soon after you get infected would this treatment have to start? Also how soon into an ebola infection can you figure out it's ebola? Basically I'm wondering that because the scientists doing these tests know what the Monkeys are infected and can start anytime they want. I'd think delaying the treatment because of the diagnosis process would probably change the results.

Re:Question or 2 who's answers I'd like to know (1)

DeadPixels (1391907) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397372)

The scientists behind the study are actually curious about the same thing:

Of course, in the real world, people infected with Ebola might not get the drug within 30 minutes of infection like these monkeys did. So Geisbert is planning another set of experiments. "Can we go 24 hours or 48 hours or 72 hours before we start treatment?" he wondered. "Can we increase the window and still achieve 100 percent protection?"

Personally, I find this fascinating and I'd be interested to see the results of their next experiments as well.

Mutation (1)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397500)

Correct me if I am wrong but one of Ebola's nasty features is its ability to mutate efficiently to offset its achilles heel. It's achilles heel is that it tends to kills its victims too quickly to adequately reproduce and spread itself. This might be why outbreaks are not long lasting but are particularly lethal.

Re:Mutation (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398166)

It can't be killing everything it infects quickly. Otherwise it would be extinct. What happens is it doesn't kill some animals/victims, they might get sick or be asymptomatic, and these carry it around. Current theory is fruit bats are one of the carriers.

The same unmutated strain could keep on killing say 80% of humans who are exposed, so there is no pressure to mutate from there. Whether it mutates fast or not thus would depend more on the main carriers.

Volunteers Needed for Double-Blind Human Trial (1)

marciot (598356) | more than 3 years ago | (#32397872)

Qualifications: Must not be squeamish about seeing blood and be willing to play the odds.

Correction: 99.999999% (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398170)

It's only 100% effective until the first successful mutation of the virus allows it to survive.

Tested population = 6 monkeys (1)

surfcow (169572) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398202)

Tested population = 6 monkeys, but keep it in perspective.

Still a great accomplishment.

Lets not let this go like Anti-venom (1)

barfy (256323) | more than 3 years ago | (#32398846)

Let's somehow keep this around, unlike coral snake anti-venom which is months away from being lost.

Conditional Probabilities (1)

dorpus (636554) | more than 3 years ago | (#32399242)

Speaking in terms of survival analysis:

The reported overall survival probability for an Ebola patient is supposedly 10%. But how many people/animals naturally have an immunity to Ebola, therefore they got infected but had no symptoms, therefore they never knew it? Then the marginal probability of surviving an Ebola infection may be greater than 10%.

Also, the survival probability changes over time depending on how long they were infected. An Ebola patient who has already survived, say, 5 days is more likely to survive than an Ebola patient who has survived 1 day so far.

The drug's effectiveness is likely to differ depending on how long after the infection it was administered. Also, what is the drug's lethality on uninfected patients?

Do survival durations for uninfected/infected individuals follow a predictable distribution, such as an exponential, Weibull, or log-normal distribution? Animal researchers typically assume an underlying parametric distribution, through which they can claim higher power, greater significance. But in human studies, the semiparametric Cox model (assuming a nonparametric distribution) is the standard; since this has less power, that is one reason studies often fail in human models.

Many factors to consider.

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