Medical researchers at the University of Iowa are studying an obscure virus which they hope will eventually lead to progress in fighting a range of diseases including arthritis, AIDS and multiple sclerosis. The lead researcher on the project is Dr. Gail Bishop, a professor of microbiology and internal medicine at the U-of-I. She says most people already have Epstein-Barr, but few know they’re infected as there are no symptoms or signs. Dr. Bishop says the virus is virtually harmless and almost never causes you any problems, like the chicken pox virus causing you shingles or a cold sore virus coming back as a cold sore. She says this virus only causes people trouble if they’re immune system is being compromised by a serious disease, like H-I-V or cancer, or if the person’s just had an organ or bone marrow transplant. She says the virus is vaguely linked to auto-immune diseases but it’s still unclear what that link is. Bishop’s team has genetically-engineered a population of mice that have Epstein-Barr virus and they’re all virtually the same, making the mice perfect for further studying the mysterious ailment. “They’re like a giant batch of identical twins or triplets,” she says, “they’re all the same genetically.” That’s important to scientists so they can properly test and replicate their theories. Developing the mice is the next link in the chain, Bishop says, toward being able to better zero in on solving immune system compromises. The study results appear in the August issue of the journal “Immunity.”