About The Task Force
The Global Virus Network (GVN) formed an international Task Force on Human T-Leukemia Virus (HTLV-1), the world’s first known human retrovirus and the only known leukemia-causing virus. Experts from 11 countries, led by Dr. Robert Gallo, GVN co-founder and scientific director and director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Luc Willems (Research Director, National Fund for Scientific Research at University of Liège) and Dr. Hideki Hasegawa (Director, Department of Pathology, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan) are leading the Task Force, which met for the first time in May 2014.
“There are no effective vaccines against HTLV, no antiviral drugs to treat infections, and though there are diagnostic tests for the virus none yet can predict which infected person gets disease,” said Dr. Gallo who pioneered the field of human retrovirology with his ground-breaking discoveries of HTLV- 1 in 1980 and HTLV-2 in 1982. “This Task Force is critical as the global community works together to address a problem which in many countries is under-recognized and under-appreciated,” he continued.
More than 20 million people worldwide are infected with the virus, of which up to 10% will develop debilitating and sometimes deadly disease. HTLV-1 causes an adult T-cell leukemia/ lymphoma (ATL), HTLV-associated myelopathy (HAM), spastic paraparesis, and other rare illnesses. Signs and symptoms of HTLV-1 infection include motor and sensory changes in the extremities, inflammation in the spinal cord, a spastic gait in combination with weakness of the lower limbs, cognitive impairment, bladder dysfunction and bladder cancer. HTLV-1, similar to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), also co-discovered by Dr. Gallo as the cause of AIDS, is transmitted through sexual contact, from mother to child via breastfeeding, and through exposure to contaminated blood.
“This task force is to set the common goal among the scientists around the world to accelerate the research in order to overcome HTLV and related diseases,” said Dr. Hideki Hasegawa of Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The mission of the HTLV-1 Task Force is to speed the pathway to discovery of drugs that will stop virus transmission or progression from infection to disease, in addition to educating the public about the nature of these viruses, the diseases they cause, and how to prevent their spread.
GVN’s President concluded, “We are excited to be able to bring together leading experts to mobilize more research and more attention to HTLV by governments in order to help communities most affected by this insidious virus.”