Newswise — Structural immunologist Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire is available to discuss Lassa virus and current efforts to develop much-needed antibody therapies to treat often lethal Lassa infections. 

A Dutch doctor, who was evacuated from Sierra Leone after contracting Lassa fever, died on November 23, while being treated at Leiden University Medical Center. A second Dutch doctor and a Sierra Leonean anesthetist have also been infected. Other Dutch and British medical personnel have been evacuated.

Lassa typically causes flu-like symptoms but can be deadly in about a quarter of infected people. There is no vaccine.

Earlier this year, Dr. Ollmann Saphire and her team identified the molecular properties shared by antibodies that are particularly efficient at inactivating Lassa virus. “The beauty of structural biology is that it gives you the ability to directly see how these therapies work,” says Dr. Ollmann Saphire. “These high-resolution images become blueprints to engineer potent  antibody therapeutics or a vaccine that elicits the desired immune response.” 


Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D. is a Professor of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology. Her research explains, at the molecular level, how and why viruses like Ebola and Lassa are pathogenic and provides the roadmap for medical defense. Her team has solved the structures of the Ebola, Sudan, Marburg, Bundibugyo and Lassa virus glycoproteins, explained how they remodel these structures as they drive themselves into cells, how their proteins suppress immune function and where human antibodies can defeat these viruses.

Dr. Ollmann Saphire also directs the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Immunotherapeutic Consortium (VIC), which unites 43 academic, industrial and government labs across five continents. The consortium’s goal is to understand which antibodies are most effective in patients and to streamline the research pipeline to provide antibody therapeutics against Ebola, Marburg, Lassa and other viruses. 

Dr. Ollmann Saphire is available via email, phone and Skype.

Watch Dr. Ollmann Saphire discuss Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.