There is no known cure for Ebola, but several U.S. patients have received donations of blood and plasma from a survivor of the Ebola virus. There is a debate in the medical community as to whether the blood of Ebola survivors has value.
Kevin Brantley survived Ebola. One possible cause for his recovery? A blood transfusion from a young Ebola survivor in Africa.
Blood transfusions are an experimental treatment for Ebola. Survivors may have high levels of antibodies in their blood that can help fight the Ebola virus in new patients.
Brantley has donated blood or plasma to three U.S. Ebola patients. He was not able to donate to Thomas Duncan, the Liberian who died of the virus at a Dallas hospital, because they did not share the same blood type.
Blood transfusions share some similarities with vaccines now in development that use artificial antibodies similar to the ones found in survivor blood.
Dr. Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Georgetown University Medical Center says the medical community still needs more research on the effectiveness of the transfusions.
“We do not know whether transfusion of blood from somebody who has recovered from the disease actually helps. We do not know. So the fact that some individuals who receive the blood get better does not necessarily mean that it is the blood that did it,” said Goodman.
Goodman said that the transfusions may be only one element in the treatment of Ebola survivors. Prompt medical attention and the overall health of the patient are also factors in recovery from the virus.
The transfusion treatment will need to undergo rigorous testing to determine if it makes a difference.
But even if Brantley’s blood does turn out to be a key part of treatment, Georgetown University professor Lawrence Gostin said his blood - and the blood of all Ebola survivors - belongs to everyone.
“We are all part of the human race and as part of the human race, it means we should not be selfish. We should be community-minded and community-spirited,” said Gostin. “There should be no patents on it. There should be no financial gain. There should be no hesitation. The ethical and right thing to do is clear to anyone.”
It is a question that is sure to come up again on the long road to discovering effective treatments for Ebola.