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Now We’re Crowdfunding Ebola Research?

One leading Ebola researcher is turning to the crowd for more funding

Liberian nurses carry a dead body suspected of dying from the Ebola virus at the Roberts field highway on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, 25 September 2014. (AHMED JALLANZO/epa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Erica Ollmann Saphire runs a lab at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, that is part of an international consortium to beat Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers. Saphire, her staff and her students are trying to figure out how Ebola works, and their discoveries have, along with the work of the rest of the consortium, lead directly to the development of the experimental ZMapp Ebola serum.

Given that Ebola is currently ravaging West Africa in a way never before seen and is currently dominating the news cycle in the U.S., one would think Saphire would have no problem getting the money she needs to do her work. But that's not the world we live in. So, with an eye towards ramping up the pace of her research, Saphire is currently running a crowdfunding campaign.

The campaign aims to raise $100,000 to buy more lab equipment and pay more staff, says the Los Angeles Times. That money would supplement the funding Saphire already gets from the government. Since some guy raised $55,000 on Kickstarter to make potato salad, it'd be nice to think her odds of hitting her goal are pretty good.

As Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, said recently, basic research has been undervalued in the U.S. for too long, and now the cracks are starting to show. According to Collins, the NIH "has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001," reports the Huffington Post:

“It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'” Collins told the Huffington Post on Friday. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

The NIH's budget has been basically frozen for the past 10 years, says HuffPo—which means the agency's purchasing power has actually dropped 23 percent. To redirect more money toward Ebola research, NIH leaders had to pull it out of other things. But with a frozen budget, there's only so much wiggle room.

“We all want a cure for Ebola,” said Saphire in a presentation attended by the Los Angeles Times. “But the free market is not going to support it because it begins by infecting people who are very poor."

As of Sunday night Saphire's crowdfunding campaign had only pulled in around $500. Over the past couple days, however, that total has climbed up to $18,000.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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