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October 15, 2014

Good News (?): Human Trials on Ebola Cure Begin

The "Canadian Cure" is slated for low-dose injections into 39 healthy patients to test for safety and side effects, per Fox News, digested at Hot Air.

They say you can't get ebola from this possible cure. If this is the Zmapp cure, and if I understand this right, they're right.

Now, understand this is based on my understanding, which is shaky as hell.

However, the Zmapp cure, if I understand this right, again, is not really a vaccine per se, or at least not a vaccine as I understand it. The typical vaccine contains a low dose of a rendered-harmless version of the disease, to induce the body to produce antibodies against it.

If I understand this right, the Zmapp cure doesn't do that. Instead, the Zmapp cocktail is a large dose of artificially-grown antibodies that should, hopefully, block the receptor sites on ebola.

In other words, their cocktail (again, I'm getting this as a non-expert from media statements, which are probably dumbed-down) is a high-dosage of ready-made artificially-grown antibodies, not a little dose of the disease designed to trick your body into producing those antibodies themselves.

I think ebola gets too deadly too fast for your body to beat it by producing its own antibodies. So the cocktail is made up of genetically-engineered proteins (antibodies) grown in... tobacco plants, for some reason.

That Cute Science Chick who's always on Greta Van Sustern has said that it takes a while to produce this stuff, because, I think, it involves a lot of gene splicing in the early steps, then you have to grow the gene-spliced tobacco plants, and then you have to extract the proteins.

And you actually have to produce a fairly high load of the proteins for them to have any positive effect.

This may or may not be a cure. But this stuff will probably continue to be pretty hard to come by for quite a while, even with the government permitting its usage as an experimental, untested drug.

The stuff does seem to work on monkeys.

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, says they've made great progress on a compact nuclear fusion reactor at their Skunkworks experimental lab, and they say, incredibly, they could be producing these commercially within ten years. (The word "incredibly" may have been well-chosen: see update at post's end.)

The reactor is small -- 10 feet by seven feet -- and can fit on the back of a large truck. I assume this is because the first buyers will be the US Military, because the military always has the most difficult needs, energy-wise. They need a lot of it, they need equipment to be as transportable as possible, and they need resupply to be as infrequent as possible.

Obviously they would want it for ships.

It produces, they say, 100 megawatts. For sake of comparison, the Niagra Falls hydroelectric plant is over 2,000 megawatts. So a 100 megawatt plant seems designed to supply a large temporary military base, not a city.

Still, when it comes to this type of thing, you would imagine that smaller is harder, and bigger is easier, right? There's a simple way to get 2000 megawatts out of a 100 megawatt generator: Team it up with 19 other 100 megawatt generators.

So I guess this is possibly good news?

I'll take it.

As a general rule, all Hopeful Science News turns out to be complete vaporware, but I'll take this as good news on this horrible day.

Not Zmapp? tsrblke says it's not the Zmapp dose.

Ace, I don't think this is Zmapp (which is an antibody treatment) I think it's a protein fragment vaccine.

Entirely different model.
Zmapp seeks to either lock receptors or mark ebola for attack by immune cells.

This appears to be a protein fragment that would "prime" the immune system for a future attack. (Lots of vaccines are actually protein fragment vaccines, they're easier to work with than attenuated virus vaccines.)

As for tobacco plants, that's probably because they're easy as hell to genetically modify. We've come a long way using the tobacco mosaic virus as our personal little tweaking tool.

But this is a Canadian drug, and Zmapp is a US-Canadian effort... I dunno. Maybe it's one aspect of Zmapp. (The Zmapp given to the missionaries was, I think, a cocktail consisting of three different drugs; maybe this vaccine is one component of those three drugs.)

Fusion Nonsense? Commenters object that it's silly to talk about a compact fusion reactor when even a large one hasn't been built yet.

Another commenter asks, "Are you sure they don't mean fission?"

Well, they definitely mean fusion. This hype-y web page wants to tell you all about their compact fusion program.

I don't really see anything here about a breakthrough. I see talk about how "building small" will allow them to make experimental models more quickly.

Maybe that's the claimed breakthrough, and that's all it is: That they're saying their build-small program will allow them to make and test possible fusion reactor models more quickly and thus work towards inventing a stable fusion reactor more quickly.

Which is... um, whatever. Not really the sort of good news I was looking for.


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posted by Ace at 04:46 PM

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