Therapy for the cause of multiple sclerosis

The patient is in a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis.

About 15,000 people suffer from MS in Switzerland alone. In a new study, the probable cause is to be combated. Long-Covid research could also benefit.

A new study by the American company Atara Biotherapeutics gives hope for a brand new treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS). In this autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks the sheath of the nerves, causing people with motor problems because nerve signals can no longer be transmitted correctly. Later, the nerve cells also die. The new treatment is now intended to combat the suspected cause. For this purpose, certain cells of the immune system are transplanted to fight the Epstein-Barr virus.

A link between this virus and multiple sclerosis has been known for some time. And a large study published in the journal Science in January bolstered the suspicion that the virus that causes glandular fever may also trigger MS. After infection, the Epstein-Barr virus remains in the body in the B cells of the immune system for life. It is believed that in rare cases, these B cells reach the brain and attack the body’s own cells there.

Destroying these remaining viruses could be a therapeutic option not only for MS but also for other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatism and lupus. And if staying in the body is also responsible for Long Covid, MS research could offer useful parallels.

Even a healing of observed damage

The new therapy was tested on 24 subjects with progressive multiple sclerosis. This is the form of the disease that does not progress in episodes with a recovery phase, but gradually worsens.

Participants were injected with immune cells from donors infected with the Epstein-Barr virus. These are meant to attack cells that contain the Epstein-Barr virus. Promising results were obtained: in 20 of those tested, the symptoms stabilized or even improved. Using a technique based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the regrowth of damaged insulation around nerve pathways could also be detected.

However, the results should be taken with caution. Clare Walton of the Multiple Sclerosis Society UK described the results as encouraging to trade magazine New Scientist, but there were other therapies that showed promise in the early clinical stages. Larger studies would have shown no efficacy. The Atara Biotherapeutics study did not yet have a control group. In the next phase, another 80 patients are to participate.

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