Two new studies have clarified that an infection with the measles virus tends toward depleting the body of B-cells – those are the cells that produce antibodies against infections that the body has previously encountered. As a result, around half of the “immune memory” is eliminated, so that, after measles, the body is again vulnerable to infection by many of the pathogens that it had previously built resistance against.
The measles vaccine does not, of course, have that effect.
Microbiologists have reported that they have found a protein (SETD3) in humans that is essential to enable a wide range of viruses to replicate. That range includes the common cold, polio, cocksackie and viruses that cause paralysis and brain inflammation – these are all in the genus enteroviruses.
Currently we can try to counter these viruses with vaccines – very difficult when there are over a hundred different strains of common cold virus and the virus is continually evolving new strains. Or we may treat serious viral infections with anti-viral medications – but these are often expensive and the virus is free to evolve resistance to them. Thus this new discovery opens the possibility of taking a single medication that disables the human protein and stopping a large group of viruses in their tracks – they cannot evolve resistance because the medication is addressing the human protein, not one of their own. So the potential is very exciting.
However, the big question is whether disabling that human protein (albeit temporarily) would have deleterious effects on the human themself. A study in mice showed no ill-effects except that the mice had trouble giving birth because of interference with smooth muscle contraction. It is still possible the protein has other unidentified functions, and the exact method in which the virus uses the protein is still not clear, so there is much research still to be done.