Researchers at UL Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center have conducted a vaccine trial on chimpanzees that could help protect endangered wild apes from deadly infectious diseases, such as the Ebola virus.
It’s believed to be the first time that a vaccine intended for apes – rather than humans – has been tested on captive chimpanzees. Results of the trial are published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Vaccines haven’t been used to fight outbreaks of diseases in chimpanzees and gorillas because of concerns about their safety, according to the journal article.
But Dr. Joe Simmons, NIRC director, said high mortality rates have made many conservationists more receptive to the potential protection of vaccines.
“Preserving endangered chimpanzee and gorilla species is a common cause for conservationists and medical researchers,” he said.
NIRC researchers tested a virus-like particle vaccine, which contains a small amount of viral proteins but is incapable of replicating. “The vaccine doesn’t cause infection, but it does cause an immune response to those proteins that can protect against infection,” Simmons explained.
Ebola is a particular concern. Along with commercial hunting and loss of habitat, it is decimating wild gorilla and chimpanzee populations. It is one of the leading killers of wild apes.
“Ebola is one of the hemorrhagic fever viruses. It has a very high attack rate and very high death rate,” Simmons said.
The virus is also deadly for humans.