Governor Rick Perry recently visited the Galveston National Laboratory at The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) to get a firsthand look at the work being conducted at the lab in response to the spread of Ebola, after having established a new task force dedicated to fight the pandemic disease. The Galveston National Lab is currently one of the two National Biocontainment Laboratories in the country studying the disease and two of its academic members were assigned to integrate the task force.
“Texas is fortunate to have dedicated and talented researchers such as those here in Galveston,” Gov. Perry said, according to the press release from UTMB. “Cutting-edge facilities like this are where theory becomes reality, where therapies are tested and where vaccines are found. I’m very proud that two members of the UTMB Galveston community have agreed to serve on the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, and I look forward to their contributions to this effort.”
The Governor met with James LeDuc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory, professor of Microbiology and Immunology and director of the Program on Global Health, at the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, who just returned from Sierra Leone, where he was studying the disease. But also about Thomas Ksiazek, virologist and expert in the field of Epidemiology/ecology and laboratory diagnosis of hemorrhagic fevers and arthropod-borne viral diseases. Both of them are members of UTMB Galveston and are a part of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, which is designed to respond to the threat of Ebola.
Comprised of 16 public health experts, epidemiologists, and leaders from state agencies, the task force’s mission is to improve the available capacities in Texas to respond to a pandemic disease, as well as provide expert, evidence-based assessments, protocols, and recommendations regarding Ebola. The experts were charged with developing a strategic emergency management plan to guide both incident command teams and their state and local governmental partners. The team’s first report is scheduled for December 1st.
“Over the past several days we have learned a lot about the unique challenges of situations like this, and it’s important that we continue to adapt our response to these realities,” Gov. Perry said. “This task force will develop a comprehensive, long-term plan to ensure Texas deals effectively with any potential outbreak, building on our existing State Emergency Plan and will cover all phases of preparedness and response.”
Ebola quickly became a real threat in the country after the first patient diagnosed with Ebola made headlines in the United States, who had remained in quarantine at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas prior to his death. However, UTMB experts have for a long while have been working on the front lines of the disease, focusing on clinical research, outbreak reaction, and developing vaccines.
There is currently no vaccine for the disease, but UTMB researcher Thomas Geisbert has been working on the development of a vaccine and believes it may be ready for compassionate use. The vesicular stomatitis virus-based Ebola vaccine (VSV) had not been tested on humans yet, but the trials conducted in animals revealed the vaccine 100% efficiency in the treatment of the infection. The researcher believes that due to positive results and the outbreak situation in West African countries like Guinea, it should be administered as soon as possible.
“Our academic medical center includes a major Level I Trauma Center and outstanding research capabilities in infectious diseases,” stated the UTMB president, David L. Callender, in a letter about the facility efforts to fight the disease. “UTMB scientists are renowned for numerous contributions to knowledge about Ebola, including their work on vaccines and other treatments to combat the virus, made possible by the high-containment Galveston National Laboratory on the UTMB campus. Although we do not anticipate needing to care for anyone with Ebola, UTMB hospitals are well-prepared to identify, isolate and treat patients with a serious infectious disease, including Ebola.”