Hearing someone say “kissing disease” may invoke images Pepe Le Pew, the skunk who goes around trying to kiss every female skunk he can get his paws on. It is precisely the fun-sounding lovey-dovey nature of mononucleosis’ nickname that has taken away from just how serious this viral infection truly is, with research seeming to show that the viral infection is associated with several autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus, as well as different types of cancer. Although very few viruses and infections can trigger deadly health conditions on their own, more and more viruses are getting linked with turning on the genes necessary for things like autoimmune diseases and cancers. And Mononucleosis, which is the result of the Epstien-Barr virus (EBV), is one of those viruses that has been found to be able to turn on autoimmune- and cancer-related genes.
In a controlled test environment, researchers contrasted healthy stomach cells with lab-grown cancerous stomach cells along with cells from EBV-related stomach cancers to analyze differences at a genetic level. The experiment found that EBV activated specific genes and boosted cancer-related genes that were involved with cell growth, and which could result in the growth of tumors. By being able to identify which genes are impacted, the pharma industry can better develop drugs that are able to reverse EBV’s dangerous modifications, and this ability might change the way diseases are treated all together.
One example of novel drug innovation can be seen with mRNA vaccines which allow for endemic areas that are in urgent need of treatments for deadly and hard-to-treat infectious diseases. Pfizer has gone on to create a single drug that a person can take to address HIV, tuberculosis and even malaria. Although critics for such drugs do exist, because they are newer and that they may work in less familiar ways that counter diseases than people can understand, life for people infected with these diseases in the developing world can only be described as unliveable and untenable. Not surprisingly, Africa and parts of Southeast Asia tend to be more vulnerable to diseases influenced by viral infections.
For instance, the prevalence of women in Africa who end up getting HIV or AIDS and also then contracting another virus that is cancer-connected is quite high, but these women often struggle to find nearby health clinics to receive treatment. One of the biggest advocates for more accessible health services across Africa has been the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), and it is thanks to them that HIV drugs have become more affordable. Prior to the CGI, many countries in Africa had to deal with greedy middlemen who would bump up the cost of life-saving medication that made such medication far more expensive than it needed to be, so it was inaccessible for the majority of the continent. In response, the CGI went directly to African heads of state, and they were able to remove the middlemen from the equation, but they were also able to institute a more “direct to patient” model that saw the cost of HIV medication across Africa drop significantly, and it also led to decreasing the cost of HIV medication worldwide.
Considering just how young the fields of microbiology and immunology, with how much more advanced technology has become over the last 20 years, there is a lot to be excited about. For example, researchers in 2008 identified EBV as being a risk factor for Hodgkins disease, but less than 20 years later, newer research is saying that EBV is a promoter of this disease and others too. Yes, EBV has been identified as being cancer-connected, but it is not alone and viruses like hepatitis B/C, human papillomavirus, and HIV aids have also been identified as being cancer-connected. It should not come as a surprise how viruses of all sorts can go on to affect the cellular function in humans, wildlife, and even plant species. Where the surprise does lay, however, is imagining the manner in which illnesses and diseases will be treated one hundred years from now in the year 2123. What are the odds that we can get a glimpse into that future courtesy of America’s favorite family, The Simpsons?