The virus that causes AIDS can be directly responsible for many severe nervous disorders and diseases like meningitis, a brain inflammation, Harvard-affiliated doctors reported yesterday.
Assistant Professor of Medicine Dr. Robert Schooley, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), said at a news conference that while the findings do not mark a major breakthrough, they may cause doctors to revise the strategy with which they diagnose and treat AIDS.
Schooley said neurologist and psychiatrists will have to consider the possibility that AIDS may be causing their patients' disorders.
And in terms of treatment, the agents used to combat AIDS will have to be changed, as many of the primary drugs currently used do not penetrate the nervous system, Schooley said.
Schooley is one of three MGH researchers under Dr. David D. Ho, research fellow in medicine, who made the discoveries. Ho was at a medical conference in Minnesota delivering the findings, which will be published in the New England Journal of Medicine Friday.
Some 13,000 Americans are victims of AIDS, which weakens the victim's immune system and ability to fight off infection. The new findings offer more evidence that the effects of AIDS stretch farther than had been previously thought.
Schooley said the disease has been thought so far to attack only the lymph system. Now, symptoms like infected cells in the spinal fluid, pains in limbs, and meninigits, an inflammation of the lining of the brain, could be indications of AIDS, he said.
But Schooley emphasized that people should not panic because of the new findings, saying that "we all get ordinary pains."
Other AIDS Findings
In Minneapolis, researchers said yesterday that an experimental new drug stops the AIDS virus from reproducing and attacking blood cells in the laboratory, and initial tests show it can be given safely to AIDS victims, the Associated Press reported.
"I think this is very promising. This is one of the most potent drugs" against the AIDS virus, said Dr. Hiroaki Mitsuya of the National Cancer Institute.
The drug has been code named compound S by its developer the pharmaceutical firm Burroughs Wellcome.
The effort to treat AIDS has been stymied by the difficulty of attacking viruses in general and the virus that causes this lethal disease in particular. The new drug works by short-circuiting the chemical process that the virus uses to make copies of itself inside human white blood cells.
Reports on experiments with the drug by Mitsuya and others were presented at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
Much More Work Needed
Experts cautioned that much more work will be necessary before they can say whether compound S will play any role in the treatment of AIDS.
"No therapeutic claim has been made," said Dr. Samuel Broder of the cancer institute. "I am cautiously optimistic that the virus can be defeated. And I am cautiously optimistic that this drug can be developed and that other drugs of more refined technology can be brought to bear on it."
Testing of the drug on AIDS victims, most of them with advanced cases, began in July at the cancer institute and at Duke University. About 12 to 18 patients will be enrolled in the studies.
So far, the research has found that the drug can be given safely, but experts said there is no information yet on whether it changes the course of the victims' illness