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Scientists think mysterious virus could be a signal of a weak immune system

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Genomic analysis of transplant patients finds an opportunistic microorganism whose elevated presence could be used an indicator in treatment.

More than 260,000 Americans are alive today thanks to transplant operations that have replaced their failing kidneys, hearts, lungs or livers with healthy organs donated by volunteers or accident victims.

But treatment doesn’t end with surgery. Transplant recipients follow strict drug regimens designed to suppress their immune systems just enough to prevent rejection of the donated organ, but not so much as to leave them prone to infection.

Until now, maintaining this delicate balance has been something of a medical guessing game. But in a study published Nov. 21 in Cell, Stanford University scientists report the discovery of what may be a barometer of immune-system strength: a little-known virus that proliferates as the medications suppress the immune system.

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