Most of us have been exposed to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). We were probably exposed as a kid or teen since it’s transmitted by saliva, kissing, shared drinks or utensils and even coughing or sneezing. It is the primary causative agent in infectious mononucleosis. So what’s the big deal? And why is there a vaccine in progress against this innocuous “kissing disease”?
What you may not know is that EBV causes about 200,000 cases of cancer (nasopharyngeal and gastric cancer, Burkitt and Hodgkin lymphomas) and about 140,000 deaths annually. It’s also a co-factor in other serious illnesses, including multiple sclerosis. Symptoms of infectious mono include extreme fatigue, sleep abnormalities, pain and other symptoms that worsen with activity. These symptoms can last for over 6 months which makes it debilitating and difficult to work.
An international team identified the specific antibodies that block binding of the virus to epithelial and B cells (EBV molecules attach to specific B cell receptors). This team developed a vaccine using nanoparticles that enhanced the immune system’s production of these blocking antibodies. The vaccine potentially neutralized EBV’s ability to infect the epithelial and B cells in both mice and nonhuman primates.
The next step would be to perform randomized clinical trials and safety studies in humans. Both of these are planned for the next few years.
References: Komaroff, A. Progress in developing a vaccine against Epstein-Barr virus. JWatch.org June 15, 2019; p. 95.Photo by The U.S. National Archives