June 1, 2022
In the last 20 years, there have been great advances in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. The discovery that a virus widely spread in the population – Epstein-Barr, a relative of the well-known herpes virus – not only causes mononucleosis but is also at the root of multiple sclerosis promises to revolutionize the future of this neurological disease. A vaccine to prevent multiple sclerosis is now on the possible horizon, both as a prevention and as a cure for the disease.
Sclerosis activated by a known virus
Until recently, this chronic, autoimmune disease was considered a sentence to disability. Unknown to a large part of the population, it affects more women than men and usually appears at the most productive time of life, between the ages of 20 and 30.
According to new studies, multiple sclerosis is triggered when the Epstein-Barr virus pathologically activates the body’s immune response. Years after the original infection, the immune system focuses its guns on the body’s own central nervous system. Specifically, against the layer of fatty substance (myelin) that protects the nerves.
The inflammation of the nerve extensions that make up the white matter of the brain and the destruction of the myelin sheath that protects the central nerves progressively alter the transmission of nerve impulses to the limbs and eyes. Over time, many patients experience severe difficulty moving and even blindness.
Symptoms: how multiple sclerosis manifests itself
Although multiple sclerosis manifests itself very differently for each person, the disease usually begins with:
- intense fatigue
- Muscle weakness in the legs or arms
- Motor coordination and balance problems
- Visual changes
The diagnosis is made by observing typical nerve lesions – “scleras” – on nuclear magnetic resonance images. Also, by analyzing certain markers that float in the cerebrospinal fluid, obtained through a lumbar puncture.
A vaccine to prevent multiple sclerosis: RNA technology
Most patients experience flare-ups or acute attacks followed by long periods of remission. Currently, the use of last-generation drugs (monoclonal antibodies and others) that intervene in the reaction of the immune system are effective. They manage to keep many patients free of outbreaks for years. But there is still no cure for multiple sclerosis.
In the future it is hoped to develop a vaccine that prevents infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EPV). This would help prevent the progress of the disease in people genetically predisposed to develop – after years of latency – multiple sclerosis.
“There is currently no effective way to prevent or treat Epstein-Barr virus infection, but an anti-EBV vaccine or a specific antiviral treatment could eventually prevent or cure multiple sclerosis,” anticipated Alberto Ascherio, professor at the ‘School of Public Health at Harvard University and one of the authors of the study published by the journal Science that tested the association of the virus with multiple sclerosis.
Moderna and BioNTech labs, which make two of the current vaccines against COVID-19, are also using their RNA technology to develop vaccines capable of preventing autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis. The two vaccines, which work differently, have been shown to be effective in laboratory animals and are beginning trials in humans. Other laboratories are also interested in developing vaccines to train the immune system to “tolerate” the nervous system without attacking it.
However, multiple sclerosis, which affects 1 in 3,000 people worldwide, is increasingly emerging as a manageable long-term disease. The development of a vaccine promises to be the next step to prevent the disease in its early form or to stop its disabling effects.
By Alejandra Folgarait @alefolgarait
EDITORIAL THINK HEALTHY
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Tags: arteriosclerosis | Cerebral | multiple sclerosis day | sclerosis | multiple sclerosis | herpes | immunity | medical research | nervous system | RNA vaccines | Epstein-Barr virus