Ebola Treatment Using Plasma From Survivors Is Not Effective, Study Says

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Ebola Treatment Using Plasma From Survivors Is Not Effective, Study Says

A treatment once considered among the most promising for Ebola patients was not found to be effective in a study performed in Guinea, researchers reported Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.
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Ebola Treatment Using Plasma From Survivors Is Not Effective, Study Says

Ebola Treatment Using Plasma From Survivors Is Not Effective, Study Says

A treatment once considered among the most promising for Ebola patients was not found to be effective in a study performed in Guinea, researchers reported Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The experimental treatment involved transfusions of blood plasma collected from Ebola survivors, whose immune systems develop antibodies to neutralize the virus. But the survival rate among the 84 patients in the study who received such transfusions last year was not significantly better than for previous patients who had not received transfusions.

Still, the researchers held out some hope for the treatment, known as convalescent plasma. “We can only say the way plasma was used didn’t show the effect we’d hoped for,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Johan van Griensven, who leads the unit for H.I.V. and neglected tropical diseases at the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine.

A World Health Organization worker checking the temperature of a man who had been in contact with an Ebola victim in the village of Tana, Guinea, in November.In Guinea, a Hard-Won ‘Victory’ Over EbolaDEC. 29, 2015
Sherdrick Koffa, estranged from his family because he helped burn bodies during the Ebola outbreak.Marshall Journal: They Helped Erase Ebola in Liberia. Now Liberia Is Erasing Them.DEC. 9, 2015
The plasma treatment was at one point the top experimental therapy recommended by the World Health Organization for testing during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has killed more than 11,000 people. Dr. van Griensven said there was still a possibility that the treatment could be effective in certain circumstances. For example, an unusually high proportion of young children and pregnant women who received it during the study survived. However, because only a small number of them were part of the study, conclusions could not be drawn, he said.

Blood plasma was collected in January 2015 in Conakry, Guinea. Transfusions of plasma from Ebola survivors were considered the top experimental therapy by the World Health Organization at one point. Credit Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine
It is also possible that only plasma with very high levels of the active antibodies might be effective. The researchers had planned to quantify those levels in a specialized laboratory in France, but samples have yet to be analyzed because it took many months to gain approval to ship them.

Another report published Wednesday in the same journal found a survival advantage for Ebola patients in Liberia who received an antimalarial treatment containing the drug amodiaquine. The finding was serendipitous. A Doctors Without Borders treatment center ran out of a standard malaria treatment and for 12 days used the substitute with amodiaquine. (Ebola patients in West Africa were typically given malaria treatment because the disease is so common.) Patients given the substitute drug had a 31 percent lower risk of death once the data were adjusted for other factors that could affect survival.

Doctors discovered the effect only months later, when they reviewed patient records after noting that amodiaquine had shown anti-Ebola activity in a laboratory study published in 2013. “What is interesting here is that we came to this a little bit by chance,” said Dr. Iza Ciglenecki of Doctors Without Borders in Geneva, who was a co-author. The study cautioned, however, that the survival difference could also have been explained by a negative effect of the standard malaria treatment. Researchers at the United States National Institutes of Health and the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases are planning to test amodiaquine against Ebola in animals.

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