His partner, Dr Katherine Ward, confirmed the death but gave no specific cause.
Dr. Epstein’s work in the 1960s to isolate the virus (a type of herpes) laid the foundation for extensive studies into the viral and biological triggers of cancers such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its possible links to other diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus and, more recently , the call long covid.
The research was later expanded to detect other viruses that cause cancer, such as the human papillomavirus or HPV. However, unlike HPV, no vaccine has been developed for Epstein-Barr, named after Dr. Epstein and his colleague. Yvonne Barrwhich is believed to be present in more than 90 percent of the world population.
To most people, Epstein-Barr is a silent hitchhiker. It is transmitted through saliva and other body fluids and is often acquired during childhood. The virus lodges in the throat and blood cells and can manifest as mononucleosis or a bout of lethargy, or without any symptoms. However, in some cases, the virus takes off by rapidly replicating in host cells.
“It’s very stealthy,” said Jeffrey Cohen, head of the infectious diseases laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. said the New York Times in 2022.
This is the point where the science gets most confusing. There is consensus that an increase in the Epstein-Barr virus has an association with some cancers of the stomach, nasal system and blood. Less clear is the extent to which the virus acts as a possible springboard for other cancers, serious inflammations such as viral meningitis and a number of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.
One complication is that Epstein-Barr is so common that researchers have trouble proving direct cause and effect. But the virus, which can be grown and maintained in laboratory settings, has become invaluable in cancer studies by looking at its effect on healthy cells and tissues.
“We can monitor how [the virus] “It acts in all types of biological environments and with different cells,” Sumita Bhaduri-McIntosh, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said in an interview. “It’s an invaluable model for research into how things go wrong.”
For Dr. Epstein, the fruitless search for a vaccine remained a lifelong frustration. In the latest vaccine efforts, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases began the first clinical trials in more than a decade in 2022. “The chain is not understood but the evidence is” saying Dr. Epstein on how the virus appears to contribute to higher rates of cancers and diseases. “But without [the virus] You don’t have a continuous chain… [and] “That can be eliminated by getting vaccinated to prevent infection.”
Decades earlier, his work with the virus began by pure scientific chance. In 1961, Dr. Epstein learned of a lecture at London’s Middlesex Hospital Medical School given by a surgeon born in Northern Ireland. Denis Burkitt, who lived in Uganda and was investigating a mysterious tumor found in some local children, often in the jaw. At the time, Dr. Epstein had been studying links between viruses and diseases in birds and other animals.
Dr. Epstein decided to see what Burkitt had to say. He sat in the back, ready to slip away if he wasn’t interested. Instead, Dr. Epstein was fascinated by Burkitt’s descriptions of the tumor (later called burkitt lymphoma) and how its appearance was closely related to climate and other factors. Burkitt’s findings were similar to his studies on viral links to animals, Dr. Epstein thought. “I could barely sit still. … It had to be that it was a virus-induced tumor in humans,” he recalled.
Dr. Epstein asked Burkitt to send him tumor tissue from Uganda. For years, the analyzes did not advance. Then, in December 1963, a sample embarked on the BOAC flight to London was diverted to Manchester due to fog. When the tumor tissue arrived at Dr. Epstein days later, the shipment seemed pointless. It was surrounded by a cloudy liquid believed to be bacteria. The mixture turned out to be a soup of free-floating lymphoma cells that were killed by the tumor. Instead of throwing it away and asking Burkitt for more, Dr. Epstein decided to try growing the cells in culture.
“So I thought, ‘Why not try it?’” he recalled. Under the electron microscope, the cells finally revealed their secret: viral particles were evident. A 1964 article in the British medical journal Lancet, written by Dr. Epstein, Barr, and research assistant Bert Achong, described the watershed moment with the first test of a previously unknown virus inside a human tumor.
in a 2014 interview Speaking to the BBC, Dr. Epstein recalled that he needed to calm down after acknowledging that he came across a new virus and its apparent link to cancer in humans. He took a long walk through the snow before returning to check out his findings.
“I had the feeling,” he said, “this was something special.”
Michael Anthony Epstein was born in London on May 18, 1921. He studied at Trinity College, Oxford University, and at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School.
After serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps after the Second World War, he returned to Middlesex Hospital as a pathologist’s assistant. His early medical research investigated Rous sarcoma retrovirus, a cancer-causing virus first observed in birds.
Dr. Epstein was professor of pathology at the University of Bristol from 1968 to 1985 and was later a member of the Wolfson University at the University of Oxford until his retirement in 2001. Dr. Epstein was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991.
Dr. Epstein’s marriage to Lisbeth Knight ended in divorce. In addition to his partner, Ward, survivors include three children from his marriage, Simon Epstein, Michael Epstein and Susan Holmes.
In 1991, at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England, Dr. Epstein and Burkitt discussed the events that led to the discovery of Epstein-Barr.
“It was actually a series of accidents,” Dr. Epstein said, smiling. “Fortunate peculiarities.”
“But you have to have two things,” Burkitt said. “You have to have the accident, so to speak, and the mind that can interpret them, look behind them and see their meaning.”
“Well, of course, that’s what Louis Pasteur said, right?” Dr. Epstein responded. “‘Luck favors the prepared mind.'”