Experimental vaccine used in Ebola exposure case

The option that emerged as the strongest was the vaccine, which had been developed by Feldmann and collaborating researchers at several institutions. Much of the key work was done about nine years ago at a microbiology research lab run by the Canadian government in Winnipeg, where Feldmann worked at the time.

Although the vaccine is based on a different kind of virus, researchers used genetic engineering to make the virus look like Ebola, triggering an immune system response.

In a 2008 study, Feldmann and other researchers showed that when given 20 minutes after a lethal dose of Ebola virus, four of eight monkeys survived. There were no side effects, Feldmann said.

"The group came very swiftly to agreement that this vaccine would be the best ... because it had showed an effectiveness when used after exposure," Guenther said.

In the end, the scientist whose life was at risk made the decision herself. She took the vaccine about 48 hours after the accident. Within 12 hours, she had a headache, muscle pain and a fever, but recovered quickly.

"Those are normal reactions to live attenuated vaccines," Feldmann said.

While future study of the woman's immune response may help to clarify whether the vaccine saved her life or she was never infected with Ebola in the first place, it will most likely remain open to interpretation.

Either way, Feldmann said scientists cannot draw conclusions about the experimental vaccine's safety or effectiveness.

There's a long history of researchers testing vaccines on themselves or people close to them. Edward Jenner, the English physician who first invented a smallpox vaccine, included his own son among the children he first gave the immunization. And Jonas Salk, an inventor of polio vaccine, reportedly gave the vaccine to himself and his entire family before making it public.

This case is somewhat different. Using the experimental vaccine, "was to save her life, that was the priority," Feldmann said. It might have been five years or more before it was tried on humans because of additional animal studies and production issues, he added.

Guenther expressed hope the case would attract funding for more research in the field of such vaccines.

"Of course, we can't just go to Africa, now that we have seen such a vaccine went well when used on a human," Guenther said.

"Perhaps this will be like a little push, where one says, yes, it's possible. Everything that we are doing on an experimental level can actually be put into practice."

AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe reported from Atlanta and Melissa Eddy contributed from Berlin.

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