Students test new mono treatment drug

The drug has the potential to cut the recovery time for mono in half, according to lab results.

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Megan Kiefer began feeling sick. She had the chills, a fever and a headache that would not go away.

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To learn more about taking part in the mono study, log on to the University’s Clinical Virology Program’s Web site at www.lamp.med.umn.edu/actu/.

When the sophomore biology and pre-med student went to the emergency room, they tested her and told her that if she didn’t feel better in a few days, she should get checked for mononucleosis.

The next Monday, doctors at Boynton Health Service told her such was her diagnosis.

Kiefer, whose mono forced her to drop a semester’s worth of classes, is the first subject of a University clinical trial of a drug that could treat mono faster than drugs currently on the market.

Hank Balfour, professor of laboratory medicine, pathology and pediatrics, said the study will focus on 40 University students who have shown symptoms of mono for under a week.

The goal of the trial is to see if the new drug will cut down recovery time, which is typically about three weeks if the mono is left untreated.

“We thought, if we could just find a drug that could cut that in half, or even a third of that, you’d save a lot of productive time for folks in school or work,” Balfour said.

Kiefer said she doesn’t mind being a guinea pig for the drug.

“I figured I could donate my body for a little while,” she said.

The new drug, called Valomaciclovir, has shown good results in laboratory tests, Balfour said.

“We’ve been able to develop a system in the laboratory to look at how the virus responds to the drug,” he said, “and this drug looks to be about twice as good in the test tube (than the current most common mono drug).”

Mono is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, a member of the Herpes family. It’s most commonly spread through kissing, Balfour said.

Balfour said he thinks 90 to 95 percent of people will be exposed to the virus by age 30. The new study is also looking into why only certain people develop the disease.

Mono can develop suddenly or over the span of a few days, Balfour said, and symptoms of the disease vary.

“The big three used to be called fever, sore throat and swollen glands,” he said. “But I think it’s more: sore throat, swollen glands and really feeling like somebody hit you with a truck or knocked you out.”

The clinical trial is expected to last through the fall, Balfour said. Participants are given either the new drug or a placebo, have blood drawn and gargle a solution during each of the twice-weekly meetings over the course of the first three weeks of the trial.

Then, over the next six months, participants come in six more times to be tested. The goal is to determine whether the new drug, being tested only at the University, is better than the most common mono drugs available today.

“We hope, in the people, it will be twice as good,” Balfour said.

Global studies sophomore Mandi Nelhs-Lowe spent a month in the hospital in high school because of complications following an outbreak of mono.

She has volunteered to assist Balfour in his study, and said the study will impact her as well.

“I think it’s really important for a treatment to be found because the complications can be horrible,” she said.

Situations like Nelhs-Lowe’s and Kiefer’s are an “illustration of what happens” when students get mono, Balfour said.

According to Boynton Health Service’s 2007 College Student Health Survey, only 3 percent of the 9,931 surveyed Minnesota college students reported ever having mono.

Of that 3 percent, however, 50.3 percent reported having their academics affected.

Students like Kiefer, who said she will begin school again in the summer, know this first hand.

“I went home to Wisconsin and have been having my parents nurse me back to health,” she said. “It would be nice to have something that would speed the process up.”