Irish patients with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) may soon be treated with medications originally intended for long-term HIV treatment.
The plan will be discussed this week at the International MND meeting in Glasgow.
Professor Orla Hardiman of TCD, who leads the National MND clinic at Beaumont Hospital, said that the use of the drugs “may seem strange, but we think that some people with Motor Neurone Disease may have a re-activation of a usually harmless virus – a retrovirus – embedded in their DNA. The early trials have been promising but numbers have been small, and we need to move to larger studies”.
There is currently no effective treatment for the illness which kills one Irish person every three days. MND has baffled medical researchers for the past 15 years.
But Prof Hardiman says that huge progress has been made in understanding the illness.
“MND is not just one but many different subtypes that have different causes and will most likely have different treatments,” she said.
“There are at least 30 genes associated with MND, signalling different causes of the disease. And in Ireland, we have shown that around 30pc of families of people with MND have higher rates of other conditions, ranging from schizophrenia, to bipolar disease, autism and learning disability.”