Recapping the 38th Annual International Herpesvirus Workshop

PLast week, Grand Rapids played host to the 38th Annual International Herpes-Virus workshop and conference (IHW 2013), the first time the conference has been in the United States since 2010. Over 500 researchers and medical professionals from countries around the world who present and discuss treatment options, emerging research and differing approaches.

Dr. Steve Triezenberg, who championed the effort to bring the conference to Grand Rapids, is the Head of the Van Andel Institute’s Laboratory of Transcriptional Regulation, a Conference Co-Chair, the Director of the Van Andel Education Institute, and President/Dean of the Van Andel Institute Graduate School.

Dr. Triezenberg explains that awareness, understanding, and the conference itself are essential because most individuals have a very narrow view over the virus and its strains.

“Sexually transmitted diseases are the most known herpes-virus, but there are actually nine different strains that have infected 90% of people, thus causing little to no awareness and understanding of various afflictions,” he says.

The nine different strains of herpes-virus each individually cause the following: cold sores, sexually transmitted diseases, chicken pox and shingles, mononucleosis, birth defects and disabilities, hypothyroidism, roseola, fever convulsions and a specific strain of sarcoma (cancer).

The main focus of emerging research has to do with the notion of resurgence and reactivation. Each person is infected at least once, but the key piece of information is that after the infection subsides, the virus finds a place to live dormant within our bodies for the rest of our lives. What the researchers and medical professionals want to understand is what tends to trigger said virus into reactivating and causing health issues later on.

Notes Triezenberg, “[A researcher] recently identified a viral protein strain that appears to be the cause of the nerve pain triggered by shingles. This provides us not with the full answer, but with a sizable target moving forward.”

In another example, a researcher from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, Dr. Shannon Kenney, brought up how to address and combat the herpes-virus and its effects on cancer. Kenney found that the virus most commonly known to cause mononucleosis is associated with some cancers of the throat, nose, stomach, and lymph nodes as well and discussed using anti-viral medicines with chemotherapy. “Though too early to consider this a cure, results like this are extremely promising,” states Triezenberg.

Continuing research and awareness through consistent meetings like the International Herpes-Virus Workshop allows for an otherwise ‘dormant’ issue to become known in our community.

Triezenberg stresses, “Incorporating good health practices is essential in maintaining a good immune system. However, understanding the reactivation mechanisms and the ways the virus evades the immune system can diminish damage.”

Photo credit: Wayne State University

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