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Ebola researcher turns to crowdfunding for help in finding cure

Scientist at Scripps Research Institute appeals for public funding to help find a cure for Ebola

A scientist at the Scripps Research Institute who is leading an international effort to find a cure for Ebola has turned to crowdfunding to raise money to buy equipment to speed her work.

Erica Ollman Saphire,  a professor in the department of immunology and microbial science at the La Jolla-based institute, placed an appeal on the website www.crowdrise.com/CureEbola in hopes of raising $100,000 to supplement funding from the federal government.

Twenty-five laboratories in seven countries are sending antibodies to Scripps so that Saphire and other researchers can hunt for the best combination to fight Ebola.

"With the Ebola virus, we're in a race," Saphire said.

According to the Scripps' Facebook page; “Samples are being sent to her lab from around the world, but the number of samples outpaces the ability of her current equipment to process them. Funding for equipment and staff will allow Dr. Saphire to work more aggressively to fight Ebola.”

At a recent seminar at Scripps called “Stopping the Deadly Ebola Outbreak,” Saphire explained the limitations on funding, even with government support. She called for greater governmental and philanthropic support.

“We all want a cure for Ebola,” she said. “But the free market is not going to support it because it begins by infecting people who are very poor.”

The research effort is attempting to unravel the mystery of how the Ebola virus blocks the immune system.

“If I had more investment, it would allow me to buy more equipment that would allow us to accelerate our work,” Saphire said.

As a February story by Times reporter Larry Gordon showed, an increasing number of researchers are turning to crowdfunding appeals as federal funding levels have stagnated.  Some universities have created their own sites to solicit funds.

But soliciting money from the public is not easy. Researchers need to "build community around a cause," a professor who studies philanthropy told Gordon.

Whether the massive media coverage about Ebola will translate into donations is unclear. By midday Sunday, after several days, the crowdfunding appeal by Saphire had gathered slightly more than $500.


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