Lisa Guerrero (EPID MPH ’10) is a biologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the Viral Special Pathogens Branch. Her team was working in a biosafety level 4 lab designed to maximize the safety of research into infectious diseases. Her work had been focused on hemorrhagic fevers such as Marburg, Rift Valley Fever, and Hantavirus when the Ebola outbreak ramped up.
“Most of my work is understanding the genetics and viral pathogenesis of hemorrhagic fever viruses with a focus on Marburg and new viruses that may emerge, like the recent Sosuga virus, discovered by our branch,” explains the 36-year-old former Peace Corps volunteer. That was before.
These days, the lab is focusing most of its efforts on Ebola. Guerrero and her team are now parsing out genetic elements in virus isolated from specific patients, so that other research facilities can dig deeply into the genetics of the virus. Developing antiviral medications tops the list of goals within her lab and the research labs that will use samples of the genetic code.
Guerrero also is part of the team working on developing a diagnostic test that, once approved by the Food and Drug Administration, will provide an additional option to diagnose Ebola. “Our test is a real-time polymerase chain reaction test for the virus which differs slightly from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) test and should be sent to health departments in the next few months,” explains Guerrero
She also assists the diagnostic teams in Sierra Leone whenever she can.
“I help gather and ship supplies and PPE, and also make sure we have the equipment for our diagnostics operation here in Atlanta,” she says. At times, she says she and her team have been operating without enough staff, sleep, or hours in the day to meet the demands of the outbreak response. “We are all passionate about what we do. It hasn’t been easy, but we are committed to doing what needs to be done to the very end.”
She has also taken on the informal role of reassuring friends and family who are panicking about the constant 24/7 news cycle of Ebola, armed with her unique knowledge of the virus.
“I feel so lucky to work with people who are world-renowned Ebola experts and have been involved in every outbreak since Ebola was discovered,” she says. It is bittersweet to know that the knowledge gained from this outbreak will prepare even seasoned experts more fully for future Ebola events.