All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for November 2002

The Time-Bomb Virus

Support Builds For Multiple Sclerosis HHV-6 Link - The Latest Research

October 24, 2002
By Nicholas Regush

The latest research on Human Herpes Virus 6 (HHV-6) and multiple sclerosis (MS) from the Institute for Viral Pathogenesis in Milwaukee further shores up the theory that this virus may act as a major trigger of the disease.

At the Baltimore meeting of the Americas and European Committees for Treatment and Research in Ms, Konstance Knox and her colleagues (which include scientists from the Medical College of Wisconsin), again showed in their latest study that some MS patients have an active HHV-6 infection when they have a relapsing episode of the disease.

Several other similar studies have come from the institute and other labs - more than enough to signal that this growing body of research needs to be taken very seriously by the medical and scientific world. It could lead to novel MS treatments that target HHV-6.

MS has remained pretty much of an enigma even though a huge amount of research work has been conducted. Now more attention is turning to the role of HHV-6 in MS.

In my book, The Virus Within, I traced, among other things, how Knox and her principal colleague, Donald Carrigan, built up some modest credibility for the idea that HHV-6 acted as an MS trigger. Their work began with a chance finding in a patient who had died. She had been diagnosed with a neurological disease. When Knox and Carrigan had run tests on the woman’s brain tissue, they discovered enormous amounts of HHV-6 in both her brain and spinal cord tissue. The infection had been active at the time of her death. Everywhere that myelin (sheaths protecting nerve fibers of the central nervous system) had been attacked - the hallmark of MS - they found HHV-6 infected cells within or near the area. And significantly in areas where myelin had not been attacked, there was no evidence of HHV-6-infected cells.

Over the years, a viral trigger for MS has often been proposed, but it has been extremely difficult to prove, given the complex events that occur at the site of myelin destruction. For one thing, MS is seen by most researchers as having a powerful autoimmune component (involving the immune system attacking its own cells).

Knox and Carrigan began to work with the assumption that HHV-6 might be the trigger for MS, in helping to provoke the immune system to begin attacking the myelin.

Their most recent work adds considerable credibility to that viewpoint.

The fact is, HHV-6 has been shown in numerous studies to a very powerful virus. It can kill key immune cells efficiently and it targets nerve cells as well. HHV-6 seems to have what it takes to cause havoc in the body and to play a role in MS.

Hats off to Knox and Carrigan who have continued to steadfastly research the HHV-6 link to MS even though they have faced tough times by not getting their research work adequately funded.

Things may be looking up a little. The U.S. National MS Society will sponsor a drug trial, involving the anti-viral drug, gancyclovir. Knox and colleagues will monitor 20 patients with regular virology studies and MRI scans to establish a baseline and then will administer the anti-viral drug for a period of three months. During that time, they will closely examine the relationship between HHV-6 status and clinical signs.

One step at a time.

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