In an Oxford hospital, a British woman aspires to be part of the global battle against the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
Ruth Atkins, a 48-year-old NHS worker, is the first healthy volunteer to be injected with genetic material from the virus as part of UK vaccine trials.
Atkins says he is «absolutely fine.»
«I heard on the radio that volunteers are needed for the trials and I thought how sad everything is that is happening in West Africa,» Atkins told BBC journalist Fergus Walsh.
«I thought about what I could do (to help). I can’t go there and work, so participating in the vaccine trial is a small thing that I can do to hopefully have a huge impact.»
At least 2,500 people have died so far from the Ebola outbreak, although health authorities fear that the number is much higher due to the number of patients who do not come into contact with the health system and are not detected.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the epidemic, unparalleled in modern history, may become a humanitarian catastrophe.
Atkins is part of a group of 60 volunteers taking part in the trial being carried out at the University of Oxford. Other trials are underway in the United States.
«The workers explained everything very well to me,» says Atkins. «They reassured me and explained the side effects that can cause me,» she says.
According to experts, there is no risk that volunteers participating in the trials will become infected with Ebola, since the vaccine contains a very small proportion of the virus’s genetic material.
The vaccine uses a modified chimpanzee common cold virus that has been infected with a protein from the Ebola virus.
«If they get the right vaccine and start giving it, it will make a difference in people’s lives,» Atkins says.
The volunteer has to complete an electronic diary in the first eight days after receiving the immunization, in which she must write down her body temperature, her general sensations and the possible reactions she observes in her body.
In addition to the enormous human costs of the epidemic, the World Bank recently warned of the «catastrophic impact» it may have on the economies of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the West African countries affected by the outbreak.
The vaccine has been developed by scientists at Okairos, a Swiss-Italian biotechnology company bought earlier this year by Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline.
Riccardo Cortese, the company’s chief executive, explained to BBC journalist Helen Briggs that scientists have been working on obtaining the vaccine for six years.
The immunization has been developed in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health in the United States.
«We made the vaccine and they did the animal trials, which were quite successful,» Cortese told the BBC.
«Before the outbreak, human safety and immunogenicity trials were quickly completed. And the program was accelerated as a result of the outbreak.»
high risk groups
Okairos is in contact with GSK to manufacture all doses for the UK, US and to plan the African leg of the trials at their headquarters in Italy.
Alfredo Nicosia, the company’s chief scientist, said it is realistic to expect the vaccine to be ready «in a few months.»
«The pace will be much faster than under normal circumstances,» he said. «We’ve gone as fast as we could.»
The trials will determine if the vaccine is safe and if it causes an adequate immune response.
Based on trials in several hundred people, it is likely that the vaccine will be used in high-risk groups. According to the WHO, health workers and others on the front lines of the epidemic will be the first to have access.
According to Benjamin Neuman, a virologist at the University of Reading who is not involved in the available trials, the vaccine could be in January. But Neuman also found that the immune system is complex, and it’s hard to know if the vaccine works well enough to effectively protect against Ebola.
«The real test will be when you get to Africa and a person who has received the vaccine comes into contact with the virus,» he added.