5 February 2015

Copenhagen chemists developing an Ebola diagnosis

Medicinal chemistry

The deadly Ebola virus raged throughout parts of West Africa during 2014. To reign in the epidemic, detecting and isolating infected patients is a must. However, existing diagnostic methods require advanced laboratories and highly trained staff, both of which are scarce in the affected countries. Therefore, an international consortium wants to develop a simple, rapid and safe diagnostic method that can be used by patients and health service providers who lack formal training.

Using sugar to detact Ebola

At the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Chemistry, Professor Klas Ola Blixt is spearheading the development of a diagnostic method that, among other tasks, is designed to examine how the human immune system reacts to the sugars, known as glycoproteins, that are located on the outside of the Ebola virus.

280 million Euro to combat killer disease

The international project is called EbolaModRad (Ebola Virus: Modern Approaches for developing bedside Rapid Diagnostics) and is simultaneously developing a range of user-friendly potential diagnostic tools. The project has received a grant of EUR 4.4 million, and is part of a wider EUR 280 million investment from the EU and IMI (Innovative Medicines Initiative), a partnership between the EU and the European pharmaceutical industry. The project has teamed up with universities, industry and government to develop vaccines and diagnostic tools, as well as methods to transport, store and use them in challenging field conditions.

New development for successful strategy

Ola Blixt has already been involved in the development of cancer and viral diagnostics that deploy the same glycobiological methods used in the Ebola project. To accelerate the pace of research, Blixt has acquired a peptide synthesis robot, an ultramodern system that is able to produce synthetic copies of the sugars and peptides to be studied. Additionally, he expects to hire a postdoc to help with his work with EbolaModRad.