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Half of progressive MS patients treated with Epstein-Barr virus sensitised T-cells see symptom reduction (11/05/17)

Positive findings from a preliminary study involving the Epstein-Barr virus has highlighted a new possible approach for treating multiple sclerosis (MS).

Researchers believe the Epstein-Barr virus plays a pivotal role in the development of MS, with the virus infecting B-cells, which causes them to attack the brain and spinal cord. 

Scientists thought that by sensitising a patient’s T-cells to the virus – an approach known as adoptive immunotherapy – the T-cells would be able to keep the infected B cells under control, which could improve MS symptoms.

In this study, six patients with progressive MS have been treated with autologous Epstein-Barr specific T-cells. Half of these patients have shown marked improvement to their symptoms, such as a significant reduction in fatigue, improvements in visual acuity, manual dexterity, lower-limb weakness and spasms. 

Dr Michael Pender, MD, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, told Medscape Medical News that he was very excited about these results. He said: “If validated in further patients, this would confirm the hypothesis that Epstein-Barr virus and impaired T-cell control of Epstein-Barr infected B-cells have a causative role in MS. And it points towards a therapy which would address for the first time the cause of the condition.”

The researchers’ method for this study was to isolate T-cells from patients with MS and grow them in a laboratory with fragments of Epstein-Barr virus, hoping to increase the number of T-cells that are able to attack B-cells infected with the virus. Those cells are then returned to the patient as a course of four does-escalating injections over the course of six weeks. Researchers are planning to treat a total of 10 patients with primary and secondary MS.

Dr Pender noted that all patients had a very low T-cell reactivity to Epstein-Barr (0.1%), but after the T-cells had been manipulated and re-administered their reaction increased by 48 per cent. “Importantly, the patients who have shown the most clinical improvement were the ones whose T-cells showed the highest reactivity to Epstein-Barr virus after their incubation,” he told Medscape Medical News.
Once this study is completed and Dr Pender and his team have treated 10 patients, they are hoping to conduct further studies to measure this outcome on a greater scale.

This study was presented at the American Academy of Neurology 2017 Annual Meeting (AAN) as part of the Emerging Science Poster Session.

Source: MS-UK (11/05/17)