SALT LAKE CITY -- Researchers in Utah have found certain drugs that attack the HIV virus also appear to attack another retrovirus linked with prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Out of all the things that bug our bodies, there are only three human retroviruses that we know of that have now been linked to some very serious ailments: One is HIV, which causes AIDS; another is connected with T-cell lymphomas and a neuroimmune illness called Tropical Spinal Paraplegia, where victims become paralyzed from the waist down.
Now, University of Utah and Emory University researchers are looking at a third retrovirus, called XMRV, and its link to prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) -- an elusive multi-symptom illness that causes overwhelming fatigue and muscular pain.
"XMRV looks very similar," says Dr. Ila R. Singh, pathologist at the University of Utah. "It can cause prostate cancer and an neuroimmune illness chronic fatigue syndrome."
Like the two other retroviruses, XMRV assumes a masquerade once inside the body.
"They integrate into the chromosome of the host and make themselves a part of the host genome," Singh explains.
As an insidious partner, unrecognized by the immune system, the retrovirus shimmies up to the gene that promotes cellular growth, triggering that particular cell to multiply and grow faster to turn into a tumor.
Now, in lab cell cultures, Singh and her colleagues have found that one particular drug used to treat AIDS patients also inhibits the same process used by XMRV to convince healthy cells to become villains. The next step: a collaboration with Colorado State University to see what this retrovirus does in animal models.
"First, to see if the virus will replicate, see if it will produce cancer in any form in these animals," Singh says.
If that happens, if they can see a cause-and-effect link, researchers could then begin testing the HIV drug in combination with others to see if it inhibits or reverses the cancer, and perhaps the neurological byproducts of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in men, afflicting about 200,000 annually. An estimated 1 million to 4 million U.S. residents suffer from CFS.