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Indian-origin researcher helps in Ebola vaccine trials

Ebola virus

Melbourne: An Indian-origin researcher has helped in identifying the kind of human trial that is most effective for testing Ebola vaccines so as to stop future outbreaks of the deadly virus.

Manoj Gambhir, Associate Professor at Monash University’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, is part of the team working on the research.

Led by University of Texas Austin researcher Steve Bellan, and in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the study on the design of CDC’s vaccine trial in Sierra Leone is published in “The Lancet Infectious Diseases.”

Safe and effective vaccines could help end the ongoing Ebola virus disease epidemic in parts of West Africa and stop future outbreaks of the virus.

The CDC recently announced the vaccine trial in the country, to complement trials in Guinea and Liberia.

Gambhir said the team looked at whether a randomized control trial (RCT) – where all people in the population have the same chance of being selected; or a stepped-wedge cluster trial design — which would give vaccine to healthcare workers and eventually treat all of them — is most safe and effective in evaluating a vaccine.

“We projected district-level Ebola virus disease rates for the next six months in Sierra Leone and then simulated both designs to see which was more effective,” he said.

“This is because it has a greater and quicker ability to detect whether the vaccine protects or not. In other words it has what statisticians call a greater ‘power’ to measure effectiveness,” he said.

“Also, RCTs are less likely to be biased when an epidemic is as complex as the current Ebola outbreak.”

“We’re proud we could work so closely with the CDC on this study and we hope to be a resource to the agency during and after the trial,” Gambhir said.

Ebola has claimed lives of more than 10,000 people, and whilst the epidemic was now receding, the search for a safe and effective vaccine remains crucial, he said.

The study is the culmination of a rapid collaboration between academic researchers at several universities — including Monash in Australia as well as many institutions in the US and Canada — and a major public health agency, the CDC, in the face of a truly international public health emergency.

The speed with which the work was done is particularly important given that its publication coincides with the beginning of the CDC vaccine trial in Sierra Leone.

The research team has been looking at the best way to undertake trials for testing Ebola vaccines in Sierra Leone.

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