Lindsay Hill ’05 Batorski is part of a research team devoted to discovering a vaccine to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. Based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the team recently published promising findings in the journal Science about successfully immunizing macaque monkeys with an effective but safe vaccine.
The spread of the Ebola virus in the African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia continues to devastate the economies of those countries and their health systems, according to published reports. Over the past year, the virus has infected more than 27,500 people and killed more than 11,000 of them.
Hill-Batorski is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a UW professor of pathobiological sciences and expert on avian influenza, Ebola and other viruses of medical importance. “I’ve been working on this project since I first arrived in the lab in 2010,” she says. “To be accepted into Science was especially great. As an academic scientist one of our main goals is to see our work make it into a peer-reviewed publication and it’s really gratifying to finally share this work.”
The vaccine under development is unique from other Ebola vaccines moving into clinical trials because it is a “whole virus” vaccine, explains Hill-Batorski. “It’s able to present multiple viral proteins and viral genetic material to the host immune system, which likely triggers a more robust immune response than vaccines which rely on a single Ebola protein. It’s also very safe. Not only is it missing a key gene that is necessary for viral replication, it is also chemically inactivated with hydrogen peroxide.”
The animal research was conducted in Biosafety level 4 (BSL4) facilities in Montana. “Once samples are harvested and properly decontaminated, they are sent back to our laboratory in Madison for further testing,” she says.
Because of the vaccine’s success rate in primates, the next step would be a trial on a small number of humans to assess safety and how their immune systems respond. “However, human trials are extremely expensive and complex to set up. It’s difficult to know for sure, but we are still a few years away.”
Her role in the research was to develop immunoassays, which are biochemical tests that measure the presence or concentration of a macromolecule in a solution through the use of an antibody or immunoglobulin. These assays were used to measure immune responses in vaccinated primates and to test the effects of chemical inactivation on the vaccines ability to protein animals from infection.
A biochemistry major at North Central, she credits an Intro to Biology course and research opportunities with discovering a love for science—and her success today. “Dr. Stephen Johnston (Roger and Nadeane Hruby Professor in the Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of Biology) taught the class with such enthusiasm and vigor, I was hooked! And under the amazing mentorship of Dr. Jonathan Visick (professor of biology), I got my first taste of real research, investigating a protein-repair enzyme in e. coli. He encouraged me to participate in a summer research program at University of Wisconsin. Without his patience and guidance, I truly would not be the scientist I am today.”
Read the Science journal article here: www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6233/439.full