One hundred and fifty years after a French neurologist first recognized a case of multiple sclerosis (MS) in a young woman with an unusual tremor, the cause of this devastating disease remains elusive. Now, a study that combed data from regular blood tests of 10 million U.S. soldiers has found the strongest evidence yet that infection with a common virus, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), dramatically increases a person’s chances of developing the rare disease.
The work leaves many questions, such as why MS only affects about one in 1000 people even though nearly everyone will contract EBV in their lifetime. Still, “It provides probably the best evidence that can currently be obtained for a major pathogenic role of EBV in MS,” says neurologist Hans Lassmann of the Medical University of Vienna, who was not involved in the study.
The study authors hope it will spur the development of a vaccine against EBV. The virus has been linked to several cancers and causes mononucleosis, and early vaccine testing is underway. Researchers then want to test whether vaccinating young people against EBV prevents MS. [Continue reading…]