A former Army researcher who worked on an anti-Ebola drug in an Army lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland, in the late 1990s and early 2000s was one of several "Ebola fighters" spotlighted by Time magazine in its annual "Person of the Year" selection.
In an interview with the magazine, Thomas Geisbert, now a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, recounted his tests of what would become the drug TKM-Ebola while with the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
While the handful of people infected by the virus who have been treated with the drug have survived, the path to the successful treatment of humans wasn't a smooth one.
"We had so many failures in the 1990s," Geisbert told the magazine, with drugs showing promise in small animals but failing to stop the disease in trials with monkeys. "It was a terrible feeling."
But more funding for Geisbert's research came in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, and tests on monkeys in 2002 and 2003 whould show a 100 percent success rate, he told Time.
"In this Ebola outbreak, we know at least four to five people got the TKM drug, and all have survived. But we don't want to say the drug was the reason they survived," he said. "While we hope they helped in patients, we can't say for sure because the patients got so many other things. ... But it's a great feeling knowing I was involved in the development of something that hopefully saved somebody. And if it saved one person, it matters."
The Army's research into combating Ebola continues, according to a news releaseon Geisbert's honor, including ongoing tests of a vaccine called VSV-EBOV on humans by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Preliminary results of those tests are expected by the end of the year, the release states.
AMRIID also has provided mobile training teams to instruct personnel deploying to West Africa on the use of safety equipment and has developed the primary test used by the Defense Department and the Centers for Disease Control to diagnose the disease.
Time has awarded its Person of the Year honor since 1927. It has gone to more than one individual on several occasions, but the last time a group of named persons received the honor together was 2005, when Bono joined Bill and Melinda Gates as "The Good Samaritans."
"The American Soldier" earned the award in 2003, a year after "The Whistleblowers."
The only other member of the medical field to have earned the honor was AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho, who graced Time's cover in 1996.