Friday, April 3, 2015

Using viruses to fight against other viruses

Right here on Stanford campus, researchers have discovered that cytomegalovirus, a herpesvirus that normally is asymptomatic in healthy individuals and resides in our salivary glands, may actually help us in fighting off the flu.   The findings were published in Science Translational Medicine under a team led by Dr. David Furman, of the department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Stanford School of Medicine.  

While infection by cytomegalovirus can lead to complications in pregnant women or immunocompromised individuals, in healthy individuals, infection is usually harmless. One experiment found that young individuals previously infected with cytomegalovirus mounted stronger immune responses to the flu vaccine compared to those never infected with cytomegalovirus. Furthermore, in mice, cytomegalovirus can directly interfere with flu progression.

Given that prevalence of the virus ranges from about 50% in the U.S. to nearly 100% in developing countries, such a finding is important in combatting the belief that all viruses are harmful to humans. Furthermore, while purposefully infecting individuals with the virus may prove as an extreme and risky move, studying how cytomegalovirus interferes with the flu can help inform drug and vaccine research by elucidating mechanisms that inhibit flu replication.

The link to the full report can be found here.

--Andrew Duong

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