Growing up, some of my friends contracted mono. They usually got it anywhere between the beginning of middle school through high school. I suspect it’s because we were way more likely to share drinks with our friends, which is a common way that mono is passed. For children, the symptoms of mono are milder and can often be mistaken for the flu or strep throat. For teens and adults, the symptoms are much more severe and can even cause organ damage.

Recently, Canadian researchers have discovered how mono, or the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), evades detection by the immune system. This is important because knowing how the virus evades detection has allowed them to develop a vaccine against EBV. Eventually, the vaccine may be available much like a flu shot and can protect infants and adults alike from contracting any type of EBV virus.

The reason why this discovery is so amazing however, is not that is could simply prevent mono, but because it can potentially protect again other diseases caused by EBV, like Hodgkin's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. These are the most prevalent types of cancer found in China and in other countries around the world.

While examining EBV, researchers discovered that the virus triggers a few molecular events that switch off key proteins. This makes the infected cells invisible to natural killer T (NKT) immune cells that are supposed to search for and distort EBV-infected cells.

During the study Dr. Rusung Tan, the study's principal investigator, said that "if you can force these invisible proteins to be expressed, then you can render infected cells visible to NKT cells, and defeat the virus. This could be key to making a vaccine that would provide immunity from ever being infected with EBV.”

The research team examined cells from infected tonsils that had been removed from patients staying at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital. After removal, the tonsillar B cells were infected with EBV combined with NKT cells. It was found that the higher levels of NKT cells reduced the number of EBV-infected cells while an absence of NKT cells was linked with an increase of EBV-infected cells. This means that if EBV-infected cells can be successfully combined with NKT cells, a vaccine can be formed to allow existing NKT cells in the body to detect and destroy the presence of EBV.

Source: Child & Family Research Institute (2013, October 12). Immune system discovery could lead to vaccine to prevent mono, some cancers. ScienceDaily.

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