More MS news articles for December 2000

Multiple Sclerosis Virus Link

More Evidence for Herpesvirus and MS Association
By Nicholas Regush

Dec. 6 ó Turf-protecting scientists studying multiple sclerosis and their funding agencies badly need a wake-up call.

All they have to do is reach out and pick up the Journal of Clinical and Infectious Diseases, which published important research in October revealing that a human herpes virus known as HHV-6 likely plays a major role in MS.
HHV-6 in MS Patients

Milwaukee scientists Konnie Knox and Donald Carrigan at the Institute for Viral Pathogeneis have been steadily building evidence in recent years for the importance of HHV-6 in MS. They and several colleagues have now revealed that the virus is active in most MS patients in such regions as the central nervous system, lymph nodes and blood flow near the surface of the body.

It appears that active HHV-6 infection does not occur in normal control patients.

Americans have, on average, about a one in a thousand chance of developing MS. At least 300,000 are affected, two-thirds of them women between the ages of 20 and 40. Symptoms include muscle weakness and vision problems that can erupt periodically.

Patients typically endure varying cycles of attacks and remissions. Most patients will develop a progressive disease, some ending up in wheelchairs.

MS most often wears away at myelin, the sheaths that protect the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, leaving lesions. The naked axons, the cylindrical extensions of nerves, become incapable of sending the types of messages required to properly control movements, speech and a wide range of bodily functions.

MS Symptom in Infected Cells

One highly significant feature of the latest research is the finding that ďa strong and close relationship was observed between the presence of cells actively infected with HHV-6 and active demyelination.Ē In other words, the virus is active at the scene of the crime.

Knox and Carrigan and their colleagues at St. Lukeís Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington D.C. also report that there is growing evidence that antiviral drugs could suppress an active HHV-6 infection and help control MS symptoms.

So why havenít we heard more about this in the mass media, especially since MS has long been associated, at least theoretically, with some viral trigger? Thatís because many medical reporters tend to focus their reporting on the mainstream MS scientists, particularly neurologists who have neglected the possible role of HHV-6 in the disease. I mean, why should the neurologists condescend to read the latest from virology?

Considering that Knox and Carrigan have published numerous papers in major science journals, detailing how HHV-6 can dramatically affect both the central nervous and immune systems, why only dribs and drabs of money flowing to these and other researchers who have been tracking the virus?

Viral View is Anti-Establishment

While Knox and Carrigan have received research funding from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, they have basically gotten zippo from the federal government. So much for all those long hours writing grant proposals.

Ah, the wonders of turf protection in science. Government bodies shelling out money for research are essentially inbred networks of little monopolies. Why back innovation? Let those mavericks first pay some dues and go begging for private dollars.

In the MS field, for example, the theory that holds sway is that the bodyís own immune system mounts an attack against myelin.

While it is crucial to thoroughly walk this track, how about focusing more attention on the possible trigger such as HHV-6, which Knox and Carrigan suggest is intimately involved in a complex manner in helping to provoke the immune system to begin attacking the myelin.

Virus is Trigger

It only makes sense that there is a trigger. Unless you are foolish enough to argue that evolution has somehow enabled the immune system to go haywire on its own.

In their modeling of how HHV-6 might help trigger MS, Knox and Carrigan suggest, for instance, that the virus not only begins to destroy myelin but its viral proteins reacting with components of the myelin may help induce the immune system to attack.

A lot of research must be done to nail this one down, but it is not going to happen without major government funding.

The MS field continues to pump most of its resources into understanding the nature of the immune system attack without thinking twice about HHV-6. This is deplorable.

And even though the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has been funding Knox and Carrigan, it essentially amounts to a piffle. It also needs a wake-up call.

Nicholas Regush produces medical features for ABCNEWS. In his weekly column, published Mondays, he looks at medical trouble spots, heralds innovative achievements and analyzes health trends that may greatly influence our lives. His latest book is The Virus Within.