18 December 2015 13:28

An expert in Ebola from Lancaster has hailed “a major step forward” in the diagnosis of the disease after working with the World Health Organisation.

The WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardisation organised an international study to produce a standard test for Ebola virus infection.

Dr Derek Gatherer from the Faculty of Health and Medicine at Lancaster was a member of the study along with Dr Bob Lauder, Dr Lisa Bishop, and former Lancaster researcher Katharina Hartman.

Dr Gatherer said: “ At the completion of this study we now have a standard diagnostic test which can be distributed to labs around the world so in the event of another suspected outbreak we can very rapidly tell whether the suspected cases are true positives or not.

“This is a major step forward in Ebola virus diagnostics and what we hope is that in the future we won’t have any more large Ebola virus outbreaks like the one we had in West Africa over the last couple of years.”

The Ebola reference reagents produced by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) and endorsed by the WHO can now be used in laboratory tests by the scientific community around the world.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “Having standard tests for Ebola and other infectious diseases is essential. It helps us gain a greater understanding of the diseases so we can more effectively protect the public’s health.”

NIBSC was asked by WHO to produce 2 types of Ebola reference reagents. The first is run alongside patient samples to detect Ebola infection. The second measures Ebola antibody levels following infection, or following immunisation with candidate vaccines.

The Ebola antibody standard will be used around the world in the testing of Ebola vaccines in development, and is expected to help accelerate the availability of new vaccines.