Seed grants aim to jump-start Ebola research

Four teams have been awarded seed grants to develop new treatments and diagnostics, and to map social and ecologic factors of the epidemic to help prevent future outbreaks.

Responding to an urgent need to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the School of Medicine has awarded seed grants to four multidisciplinary teams of investigators who are developing novel drugs and diagnostics and mapping the epidemic to help prevent further outbreaks.

Michele Barry, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health, said the grants were designed to address a gap in the response to the outbreak, which has killed more than 8,000 people.

“There was a sentiment that academic medical centers were not stepping up to the Ebola battle,” Barry said in announcing the awards at a global health conference Jan. 9 on the Stanford campus.

In November, Barry organized a brainstorming session on potential Ebola-related projects, culminating in 17 grant proposals. Because of limited resources, only four could be funded under the program. The Dean’s Office provided the $150,000 in funding, she said.

Following is a list of the principal investigators and a description of the projects they are leading:

  • Ann Arvin, MD, the university’s vice provost and dean of research, will work with colleagues to create a novel assay to measure antibodies that have the ability to block the entry of the Ebola virus into a cell. If successful, the method could be valuable in testing whether antibodies from patients who have recovered from Ebola could be donated to those who have the disease, said Arvin, a professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology. The assay also could be used to measure the immune response in people who receive experimental vaccines, she said.
  • Shirit Einav, MD, assistant professor of medicine, is collaborating with researchers at Stanford and other academic medical centers in a clinical study of two repurposed, federally approved cancer drugs that have shown the potential to serve as broad-spectrum antivirals. The study will likely be carried out in Sierra Leone, which has been hard hit by Ebola, Einav said.
  • Utkan Demirci, PhD, associate professor of radiology, and colleagues will develop a microchip that could rapidly detect Ebola. The goal is to create an assay that could be used in resource-limited settings to quickly diagnose the disease. 
  •  Zhiyuan Song, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in anthropology, is working with a colleague at the Carnegie Institution for Science to map the social and ecological factors, such as changes in animal habitats, which have contributed to the spread of the virus. Such a map can help predict risks and prevent future outbreaks, he said. “So the next time we won’t be surprised. We need to make some predictions and be prepared.”

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