In the New Iberia Research Center, part of the University of Lousiiana, six chimpanzees will be injected with a vaccine against Ebola. The ultimate goal is to vaccinate wild chimpanzees and gorillas against Ebola, where Ebola is estimated to have killed about one third of the gorillas in the world. Thus, the major aim of this study is to show that the vaccine will not kill or harm the gorillas and it can be safely used to protect the animals.
The vaccine is produced by Integrated BioTherapeutics Inc. in Gaithersburg, MD. The vaccine is described as “containing Ebola virus proteins in what’s known as a viruslike particle that cannot copy itself or cause disease.” So it must be an inactivated vaccine. A study in 2007 shoed that the vaccine completely protected five monkeys against a lethal dose of Ebola virus, but monkeys’ immune systems may react very different than chimpanzees and gorillas.
Much of the debate surrounds the ethics of using chimpanzees as a model system for humans. The ethics behind such research is indeed complicated and controversial. The US considered a bill, the Great Ape Protection Act, that would banned chimpanzees as an animal model altogether. However, in this case the vaccine should benefit the animals as well as humans.