Sir Michael Epstein on virus that 'everyone' has, but doesn't talk about

Sir Michael Epstein, who co-discovered the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and spent decades trying to raise awareness about its links to cancer, has died at the age of 92.

In 1964, Epstein and colleague Yvonne Barr identified the virus in a tumor sample from an African boy, establishing a connection between the virus and lymphomas, and earning Epstein the knighthood.

Epstein-Barr is named after the doctor and his colleague, Yvonne Barr, and is believed to be present in more than 90 percent of the world's population. While most people have it as a harmless infection, the virus is a significant contributor to cancer.

It is spread through saliva and is usually acquired in childhood, with many people experiencing no symptoms. However, in some cases, the virus undergoes rapid replication in host cells and flares up as mononucleosis or other cancers and autoimmune diseases.

Due to its prevalence, proving the direct cause and effect of the virus on other cancers and diseases is challenging for researchers. However, it has become an invaluable model for cancer studies by monitoring its effects on healthy cells and tissues.

Epstein spent his career trying to develop a vaccine against EBV, but despite his efforts, none have been developed. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases began clinical trials for a vaccine in 2022.

Michael Anthony Epstein was born in London on May 18, 1921, and attended Trinity College at the University of Oxford. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps after World War II and later returned to Middlesex Hospital as an assistant pathologist.

His interest in the connection between viruses and diseases in animals fueled his research on the Epstein-Barr virus. He was married to Lisbeth Knight, and despite their later divorce, he had three children, Simon Epstein, Michael Epstein, and Susan Holmes.

Sumita Bhaduri-McIntosh, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Florida College of Medicine, appreciated Epstein's discovery of the virus, as it served as an invaluable model for researching how viruses cause cancer.

Epstein's death is a tremendous loss, according to Balbir Singh, who studied EBV's association with lymphoma. He praised Epstein's work and described him as "a towering figure in virology."

Michael Epstein died on August 25, 2023, at his home in Oxford, England. He will be remembered for his pioneering work in discovering the Epstein-Barr virus and his efforts to raise awareness of its link to cancer. Unfortunately, at this time, there are no vaccines or treatments available for EBV.

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