A recent study has found the likely cause of multiple sclerosis (MS), and pharmaceutical companies are already developing a vaccine. The study was conducted from the data of 10 million military personnel in America by Dr. Bjornevik and his team at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The research suggests that MS is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. The virus, also known as the ‘kissing disease’ was present in over 99% of those diagnosed with MS.
“We found that EBV-infection was associated with a 32-fold increased risk in MS,” Dr. Bjornevik said, adding that “a risk of this magnitude is unusual in scientific research.”
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease, and causes damage to the myelin sheath- a protective layer that forms around nerves, which allows nerves to quickly transmit signals. The symptoms of MS range from mild to severe, and can include paralysis and extreme pain.
Further confirmation that EBV is the trigger for the disease is that no other virus that the participants caused them to develop MS. “Our study is the first that provides compelling evidence of causality, i.e., it suggests that EBV is the leading cause of MS,” Dr Bjornevik said.
The twenty-year study
The study looked at the blood work of military personnel over a 20 year period, from 1993 to 2013. Researchers isolated the people who did not have Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) at their first sample collection who later were diagnosed with MS. Out of the 801 people who developed MS, only one person tested negative for EBV.
Since many of the population have antibodies to Epstein-Barr virus, having the virus alone does not trigger Multiple Sclerosis. Dr William Robinson and Dr Lawrence Steinman from Stanford School of Medicine, California offered their own view. “Other factors such as genetic susceptibility, are important in MS pathogenesis.”
Vaccine for multiple sclerosis
This breakthrough could herald a new age in treatments for multiple sclerosis. Drs Robinson and Steinman talked of the potential therapies that could now be offered. They offered the possibility of a vaccine that targeted EBV, or even anti-virals that target the disease. The pharmaceutical company Moderna have already begun testing a new MRNA vaccine, with the first participant dosed in phase 1 of their trial. It seems that hope is on the horizon, with Robinson and Steinman concluding: “Now that the initial trigger for MS has been identified, perhaps MS could be eradicated.”