As the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues, researchers from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health are using their expertise to assist in containment of the virus.
Dr. Anne Rimoin, associate professor of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health, is currently in the DRC along with several colleagues from the UCLA-DRC Health Research and Training Program, a program Dr. Rimoin has led since its inception in 2004. The UCLA-DRC team is assisting the Congolese government with mapping the outbreak in real time and testing people suspected to be infected with Ebola. One member of the UCLA-DRC program, Mr. Cyrus Sinai, a cartographer, has been asked by the DRC Ministry of Health to create detailed maps of the outbreak area to help officials identify where the virus is and how it may spread from one village to another.
[Photo: Dr. Anne Rimoin]
The UCLA-DRC team will also conduct a study of the new Ebola vaccine that is currently being given to people at high risk for becoming infected with the virus. By collecting blood samples from people who receive the vaccine, the researchers hope to learn how immune responses may differ from person to person. Dr. Nicole Hoff, adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health and the UCLA-DRC country director, is overseeing aspects of the study, including training health workers on how to collect blood samples, managing the purchase and gathering of supplies and establishing an on-site laboratory. Dr. Hoff is also providing technical support to the DRC’s national Ebola laboratory.
“The UCLA-DRC team is focused on doing all we can to address the current outbreak and to collect as much data as we can to learn how differently people may react to the Ebola vaccine,” said Dr. Rimoin, who has worked in the DRC for the last 16 years.
This is the ninth Ebola outbreak to hit the DRC, a country of dense rainforest where people often come into contact with animals such as fruit bats, antelopes and wild boars that are hypothesized to have a role in Ebola transmission.
The first-ever documented Ebola outbreak occurred in the DRC in 1976. In 2016, Dr. Rimoin and colleagues located the 14 survivors of that first Ebola outbreak. By studying their blood samples and health histories, Dr. Rimoin and colleagues found that the survivors carried antibodies to the virus—a discovery that could help in the development of new vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat future outbreaks.
The UCLA-DRC Health Research and Training Program has headquarters in Los Angeles at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and in the DRC. The program focuses on conducting research to develop new strategies for preventing and controlling infectious diseases and providing aspiring epidemiologists in the DRC with the training and skills they need to conduct their own research. Dr. Rimoin and colleagues collaborate closely with the DRC Ministry of Health, the Institut National de Recherche Biomedicale (National Institute of Biomedical Research and DRC National Reference Laboratory) and the Kinshasa School of Public Health.
The UCLA-DRC Health Research and Training Program is grateful to Thermo Fisher Scientific and The Scripps Research Institute for the supplies it has donated for the program to use in the DRC during the current Ebola outbreak.
The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, founded in 1961, is dedicated to enhancing the public’s health by conducting innovative research, training future leaders and health professionals from diverse backgrounds, translating research into policy and practice, and serving our local communities and the communities of the nation and the world. The school has more than 600 students from more than 25 nations engaged in carrying out the vision of building healthy futures in greater Los Angeles, California, the nation and the world.