Scientists working at the US National Institute of Health have made some intriguing discoveries about ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease and officially as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It is a neurodegenerative disease which has no treatment and no cure. All people who develop it will have a shortened life span.
They have found that in people with ALS have viral particles that have become activated. These viral particles have been carried along in the people’s DNA and become activated. Viral particles in human DNA are normal but usually not active. Often they simply sit there doing nothing and are referred to as “junk DNA”.
Dr. Avindra Nath observed that sometimes people with HIV exhibited symptoms akin to ALS but these symptoms could be reversed with the use of antiviral drugs. It inspired him to study the possibility that a class of viruses known as retroviruses may have a role in causing the neuron destroying disease. They devised a study using a mouse model. The mice were genetically engineered to activate the retrovirus carried in their genetic code. They exhibited signs of death of motor neurons, the same neurons that die in humans with ALS.
Then they treated some of the mice with an antiretroviral drug. The mice improved.
It is very early days yet, but Dr. Nath is optimistic and has planned Stage 1 testing.
We may have discovered a precision medicine solution for treating a neurodegenerative disorder," said Dr. Nath. Science Daily
What triggers the start of this deadly disease is still unknown. There are two kinds of ALS – Sporadic and Familial. Familial presents a greater risk of developing the disease through inheritance. Sporadic trigger is unknown, but the ALS Association mentions that military veterans are twice as likely as the rest of the population to develop this neurodegenerative disease.
Viruses are a strange group of infective particles. They are unable to reproduce on their own, but require the hijacking of a host’s DNA to reproduce. They stitch themselves into the genome of a host cell and subdue its defenses in order to produce more viral particles. Often the infected cell dies. Sometimes they stitch themselves into a host’s DNA and ride along for generations before causing a disease.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
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