We’ve all heard about Ebola in the news and how humankind reacted to this devastating outbreak. Amidst the chaos, Professor Ian Goodfellow from the University of Cambridge set out on a heroic journey to understand this deadly virus and its evolution in real time, in Sierra Leone, West Africa – the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak.
Follow Dr. Goodfellow’s journey by watching the video.
When I heard about the Ebola outbreak on the news, I was curious to learn about what this virus was all about. The Ebola virus is a zoonotic virus which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans. The virus has been around for almost 50 years, evolving over time. It’s most common hosts are fruit bats and when infected, the bats show no symptoms, acting as reservoirs for the virus. The Ebola virus can then be transmitted to humans through uncooked meats from infected animals or exposure to bodily fluids. While the virus is harmless to bats, it’s fatal to humans.
When the common man was worried about getting infected, Dr. Goodfellow took up the challenge. Dr. Goodfellow and his team wanted to study how this virus evolved in real-time, for which he had to be in Sierra Leone. Before Dr. Goodfellow’s arrival, there were no next-generation sequencing facilities in Sierra Leone.
Before setting off to Sierra Leone, Dr. Goodfellow evaluated several options to set up the research lab, before choosing the Ion PGM™ System, Ion Chef™ System and Ion AmpliSeq™ technology to study the virus. He and his team shipped all the sequencing equipment from Scotland to Sierra Leone and set up a lab from the ground up. The lab was set up in tents, outdoors, far from the traditional laboratory. The fluctuating temperatures, humidity, dust, and insects, were uncontrollable factors the team had to consider and account for while performing their experiments. It’s just mind-boggling to imagine running a sequencer as a grasshopper walks all over your instrument.
It’s so inspiring how the team set up all their lab equipment in a tent in the middle of nowhere. The team was not only successful in setting up a research lab and making sure the instruments were in working condition, but they were able to study this deadly virus first hand, during the epidemic to understand its evolution. As the Ebola epidemic wound down, Dr. Goodfellow has plans to establish an infectious disease laboratory at the University of Makeni, which will allow other scientists in Sierra Leone access to next- generation sequencing technology, to retrospectively analyze outbreak samples and to study other infectious diseases.
Dr. Goodfellow’s noble aim to provide his expertise to help humanity by understanding the Ebola virus also provided Sierra Leone with its very own next-generation sequencing facility which will be available to all the scientists in Sierra Leone.