By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
(February 9) - Doctors at Hadassah-University Hospital have, for the first time in Israel, treated a patient in the midst of a multiple sclerosis attack with an anti-viral drug called ganciclovir (commercially known as Cytovene).
Because D.S. of Jerusalem did not respond to any conventional MS drug, and his symptoms were unconventional, doctors sent a blood sample to a lab in Wisconsin, which detected active Human Herpes Virus-6 (HHV-6). They believe that D.S.'s latest attack, which forced him to walk with a cane, may have been triggered by the virus. After taking Cytovene, which is manufactured by Hoffman-La Roche, for five weeks, "he is now jumping," said Dr. Dimitrios Karusis, his neurologist at Hadassah.
Karusis said he had to apply to the hospital's Helsinki Committee of Medical Experimentation to use the drug, which is not listed for MS. There is no lab in Israel that can detect HHV-6 as an active infection from a blood sample, and Karusis thinks it might be worthwhile to equip a local lab for this procedure. Sending blood to Wisconsin costs the patient $250.
Karusis believes that HHV-6 may trigger MS attacks in about five percent of patients.
There are some 5,000 Israelis suffering from MS, which presents itself in a wide variety of forms.
MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly recognizes the myelin coating of the body's neurons as a "stranger," thus causing "short circuits" of the transmission of electrical charges through the nerves. Various drugs, including the Israeli-developed Copaxone, and betaserones, have been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks in some patients, but they are not a cure.
Prof. Oded Abramsky, head of the neurology department at Hadassah, said because MS attacks triggered by HHV-6 only occur in some people, it is worthwhile for those who don't respond to conventional treatments and whose symptoms are unusual to ask for an HHV-6 test.
"D.S. has improved remarkably, but we have to follow his case up to
determine whether it was the ganciclovir that really had an effect and
how long it will last," Abramsky said.