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Rethinking an Old Viral Foe

By January 21, 2019No Comments

You may not have heard of cytomegalovirus, but the two of you have likely met.

In fact, odds are it’s dozing inside you right now.

Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, infects at least half of all adults worldwide. Most are unaware they’re infected because their healthy immune system keeps it in check. The virus slips into dormancy, becoming a passive and lifelong passenger.

But CMV can roar back to life in anyone with a compromised immune system. The results can be life-threatening, and the virus has plagued bone marrow transplant patients for decades.

new study in Science may rewrite the story of why the virus wreaks such havoc — and hint at how to stop it.

The research challenges long-held theories about how the body controls CMV. The twist: The immune system’s defense against CMV isn’t a solo performance. After years of studying a mouse model, a team of researchers led by Dr. Geoffrey Hill shows that an unsung actor — antibodies — plays a vital role.

Antibodies are one of the body’s chief ways of defending itself against infection. These Y-shaped proteins can bind, like a lock and key, to bad actors and neutralize them.

Hill’s insight could pave the way for cheaper, safer therapies using antibodies to protect transplant patients against CMV. In a tantalizing hint, the researchers found that a dose of the right antibodies after transplantation can keep the virus dormant in mice, without the need for any other immune cells.