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A Breakthrough in JC Virus Treatment

September 29, 2015

Two studies recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine revealed a possible new vaccine treatment for JC virus with important implications for multiple sclerosis treatment. The JC virus is usually harmless, unless it so happens that the person has a weak immune system. This is often the case for MS patients taking immunosuppressive medications.

In this case the JC virus has the potential to infect the brain and cause a rare and often fatal disease called PML, which causes inflammation of the brain and the destruction of white matter.

“In healthy people, the disease never breaks out as the immune system keeps it well under control. Once the immune system is compromised, however, such as in patients with tumors, leukemia, AIDS, autoimmune diseases and certain immunosuppressive treatments, the JC virus is able to alter its genetic information and infect the brain,” explained the co-author of both studies Dr. Roland Martin from the University of Zurich in a news release.

It is well known that the use of Tysabri as a therapy for multiple sclerosis is a known cause of PML. Now, researchers found that there is a new vaccination approach to treating PML, and preventing it altogether.
In one of the studies, researchers found that oftentimes antibodies in PML patients are unable to even see the JC virus strain that has infected the individual due to genetic mutations that make the virus “invisible” to the immune system. In the second study, authors offer a solution, as they show that the use of broadly neutralizing antibodies obtained from a particular PML patient who recovered from the disease can be an effective therapeutic strategy for PML and JC virus infection.

The discovery of these specific antibodies allowed the development of a vaccine based on the coating protein of the JC virus.

“We made a major breakthrough,” concluded Dr. Martin.