Will it work?
It's not clear that using antibodies from recovering patients would work. In a 1995 outbreak, eight patients were given serum from recovering patients and only one died, according to a 1999 study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. However, those patients may have been given the drug when they were already on the road to recovery, Geisbert said.
When Geisbert and his colleagues tested a treatment made from human antibodies in monkeys injected with Ebola, the antibodies failed to protect rhesus macaques from infection and death, according to a 2007 study in PLOS Pathogens.
However, a cocktail of engineered Ebola antibodies called MB-003 developed by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals seemed to protect monkeys exposed to the virus, a 2013 study in Science reported. In animal models, some of the newer antibody treatments seem to be more effective at combating the disease, perhaps because they are more targeted, Geisbert said.
In the current outbreak, about 40 percent of victims have survived even without treatments, making it hard to gauge any treatment's effectiveness, Geisbert said.
To assess if a treatment was helping, doctors would need to measure the amount of virus in multiple patients' blood and bodily fluids before treatment, and then frequently afterwards. If the treatment worked, they would expect to see a steep drop in the number of virus particles circulating in the body soon after injection, not a gradual decay, Schaffner said.
But even then, it would be hard to say whether a treatment worked, Geisbert said.
"My fear is that they're going to give it to somebody that's almost ready to die and then blame the treatment, and I don't think that's fair," Geisbert said.
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