So my expertise over the last few decades
has been in understanding how the human immune deficiency virus that causes AIDS can affect
the brain as well. So as part of that I see patients in the clinic
and I came across a patient who had HIV infection and also developed symptoms of ALS.
Once we treated that patient for the HIV infection the ALS got better.
It’s a very compelling observation. ALS, as such, almost 90% of patients die within
less than five years. That made us wonder is it possible that there
may be some retrovirus involved in ALS itself. We found that those patients who have ALS,
when we looked at their brain samples found that there was an activation of a virus that
is usually present in the human genome and remains dormant during adult life.
We took the gene of that virus and put it in mice and we found that those mice develop
symptoms of ALS. And so they difficulty walking and as these
mice aged they had more and more symptoms develop.
ALS is a disease in which there is an anatomical progression of the symptoms. So it can start
in one arm and then slowly progress and involve the other arm.
It’s quite possible that what the virus is doing is it gets activated in one area
and then from there it gradually spreads from neuron to neuron.
What it means is that we now have the ability to monitor patients for expression of this
virus. The next order of question to ask is that
can we develop drugs that may be able to prevent the virus from replicating similar to an approach
that we’ve taken for controlling HIV infection. So we do have a clinical trial right now and
the purpose of that clinical trial is to determine just that.
In a small subset of individuals where the virus may be elevated we would like to be
able to see if that viral load can be decreased or not.