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MS and HIV: Could MS Be Caused by a Retrovirus?

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By Jeri Burtchell • • April 24, 2014

By Jeri Burtchell, HealthLine, 4/9/14

Two new studies are under way to test antiretroviral medications on multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. This research is spurred by a narrowly accepted theory that MS may be triggered by human endogenous retroviruses.

In a phase-2 study currently enrolling volunteers, scientists at the Royal London Hospital in England will be following 24 patients who had been given the antiretroviral drug raltegravir, a therapy used to help prevent HIV-positive patients from developing AIDS.

Through a separate study, the Swedish company GeNeuro Innovation has developed a monoclonal antibody called GNbAC1, which targets a protein made by multiple-sclerosis–associated retrovirus (MSRV). GNbAC1 was tested on a small group of 10 patients with two different doses administered intravenously. If approved, it will become the first monoclonal antibody to target a retrovirus in MS. Patients on this drug would receive monthly IV infusions.

HERVs Defined

In 2003, scientists at the Human Genome Project completed the daunting task of mapping all of the genes found in human DNA. During that process, they discovered that nearly 8 percent of our DNA is composed of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs), which, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "represent footprints of previous retroviral infection and have been termed 'fossil viruses.'" HERVs are the remnants of the infections of our ancestors, passed on through our genes.

These leftover bits of DNA were originally thought to be harmless "garbage" that remained dormant. However, recent research has revealed that these HERVs can become reactivated, and may play a role in several autoimmune diseases and certain cancers. HIV and herpesviruses have been definitely linked to HERVs.

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