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NIH scientists outline steps toward Epstein-Barr virus vaccine

Vaccine could prevent mononucleosis and cancers linked to virus
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infects nine out of ten people worldwide at some point during their lifetimes. Infections in early childhood often cause no disease symptoms, but people infected during adolescence or young adulthood may develop infectious mononucleosis, a disease characterized by swollen lymph nodes, fever and severe fatigue. EBV also is associated with several kinds of cancer, including Hodgkin lymphoma and stomach and nasal cancers. Organ transplant recipients and people infected with HIV (who become infected with or who already are infected with EBV) also may develop EBV-associated cancers. There is no vaccine to prevent EBV infection and no way for doctors to predict whether an EBV-infected person will develop virus-associated cancer.

In a new article from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and Harold Varmus, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), join Gary Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIAID's Vaccine Research Center, and Jeffrey Cohen, M.D., chief of NIAID's Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, in summarizing a recent meeting of experts who gathered to map directions toward an EBV vaccine. Although it may not be possible to create a vaccine that completely prevents EBV infection, the authors note, clinical observations and results from clinical trials of an experimental EBV vaccine suggest that it may be possible to create an EBV vaccine capable of preventing the diseases that sometimes follow EBV infection.

Priorities for future research include determining which immune system responses to vaccination correlate with protection from infection or disease; identifying biological markers that would enable clinicians to predict development of EBV-related cancers; and establishing collaborations among government, academic and industry scientists to further improve an experimental EBV vaccine and to spur development of second-generation EBV vaccines.

JI Cohen et al. Epstein-Barr virus: An important vaccine target for cancer prevention. Science Translational Medicine DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002878 (2011).
Scientific experts from NIAID and NCI are available to comment.
To schedule interviews with Dr. Fauci or other NIAID authors, contact the NIAID Office of Communications, 301-402-1663,

To schedule interviews with NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus, contact NCI press officers at 301-496-6641,

NIAID conducts and supports research -- at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide -- to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at

NCI leads the National Cancer Program and the NIH effort to dramatically reduce the burden of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI Web site at or call NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

NIAID Office of Communications | EurekAlert!
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