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Behind the headlines: Could an immunotherapy treatment for the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) treat MS?

April 24, 2022 | Southmedia

Could a new immunotherapy treatment for EBV treat MS?

A new immunotherapy treatment in a trial for progressive MS hit the headlines recently. News reports say it could reverse or stabilise the progression of MS by targeting the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). We looked behind the headlines to find out more.

The trial was already underway when a study provided the strongest evidence yet that EBV may play a key role in causing the development of MS. The experimental immunotherapy, called ATA188, involves transplantation of immune cells from donors without MS who have EBV, into people with MS. But these aren’t just any immune cells. They patrol the body specifically for EBV-infected cells and destroy them.

During the trial, 24 people had the treatment for one year at varying doses and their level of disability was measured using the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS). This mostly focuses on walking ability, but also measures other things like balance, eyesight and memory.

Early data from the trial showed that after 12 months on the trial, 5 people had worsening of their EDSS, 7 had an improvement, and 13 had no change.

This is a very early trial and final results haven’t been reviewed by other scientists yet so it’s too soon to conclude that the treatment could have a positive effect on someone’s MS.

Researchers are trying to find out what EBV does in the body that could lead to the development of MS. Recent research suggests proteins on EBV-infected cells and some proteins in our nervous system look very similar. So the immune system could attack both by mistake in people with MS.

A larger trial is now being conducted, which will initially recruit 80 people with progressive MS in the US and Australia over the next 5 years. So it could provide stronger evidence on ATA188.

For more on this story, visit the MS Society website at

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