EBV, or Epstein-Barr virus, is a form of viral infection. It is one of the most commonly found viral infections in humans and is most notably associated with mononucleosis, otherwise known as mono. It’s estimated that as much as 90% of the worldwide population has this virus in their body. However, not everyone experiences symptoms, which is why it is so spreadable. Once a person contracts EBV, it remains in their body for life, but goes dormant. That means that it can call the human body home without causing any symptoms or notable health concerns.
That said, an EBV virus can lead to the development of certain diseases, some of which can be serious and even life-threatening. The most significant health issues arising from EBV include cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis (MS). In people with weakened immune systems, the likelihood of these complications is higher than in those with healthy and strong immunity.
Currently, no treatments are available for an EBV infection beyond managing symptoms at home. However, this may change due to a recent discovery involving monoclonal antibodies.
What are monoclonal antibodies?
Monoclonal antibodies, or mAbs, are types of antibodies that are produced from cloned white blood cells. Each mAbs has a parent cell, and each clone from that cell can be microscopically traced back to it because of its unique characteristics. These cells are designed to search for and attach to specific proteins on viral cells to keep them from entering healthy cells and spreading the infection in the body.
In recent years, mAbs have been used to treat other viral infections, such as COVID-19. They have also been used in cancer treatment because they are designed to attack specific targets. In some cases, these antibodies can also encourage the immune system to attack cancer cells, making it a viable treatment option.
A possible breakthrough in EBV treatment
With EBV being essentially untreatable, researchers have been searching for something that may be able to stop the viral infection from taking hold. This research has been fundamental because of the heightened risk of dangerous diseases such as cancer attached to an EBV infection in some people.
The recent breakthrough in EBV treatment and mAbs comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Researchers on the collaborative team aimed to use mAbs to target the EBV virus in a lab setting using human cells.
To determine how well the antibodies would work, researchers developed a group meant to target proteins known as gH and gL. These two proteins are known to help EBV get into human cells, and it was hypothesized that targeting them specifically could change that.
Researchers discovered the possibility of using mAbs for EBV through trial and error when analyzing the structure of surface proteins on the viral cells. They had to go through various sites on the cell to determine if any vulnerable areas could be targeted using mAbs therapy. Upon discovering that multiple cell regions could be susceptible to mAbs, they tested the new findings on mice, finding that one specific mAbs offered total protection against an EBV infection and EBV lymphoma.
In the human cells tested following the experiment using mice, the mAbs providing protection for mice were also able to block the infection from getting into human cells.
What does the new research surrounding experimental mAbs mean for EBV treatment?
Without any current treatment options, many people who contract an EBV infection must deal with symptoms until they pass and hope for the best regarding complications. It’s hard to determine how a person’s body will react to the virus and whether it will reactivate in later years, so this new discovery paints a positive picture for the future of EBV treatment.
This research will pave the way for possible treatments after someone has contracted the virus. In turn, it could be a viable option to help prevent complications like Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Another way the discovery can be applied to real-world scenarios is through vaccinations. EBV is very prevalent, so having a new vaccine for vulnerable people can change how the virus spreads throughout the global population and what happens to those who contract it.
After the results of the aforementioned study were published in Immunity, a journal dedicated to research surrounding the immune system, talk of the breakthrough discovery began to make waves in the medical world. Since EBV lacks any sort of treatment and comes with possible serious complications, the idea that a new form of mAbs could essentially protect human cells from being infiltrated by the virus is a step in the right direction. Research is ongoing so that in the future, a vaccine and treatment can be developed to help stop EBV from taking such a negative toll on those who contract the highly prevalent viral infection.