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."
The key to a better understanding of the illness will be to find funding for clinical research, which Prof Hardiman says is always difficult.
The HIV drug trial is not going to be sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. Prof Hardiman is part of a group which plans to raise €40m over five years.
In the past few years, €1.6m has been raised through donations, with support from Science Foundation Ireland for a project which tracked gene sequencing of DNA samples, which helps in the understanding of genes that might increase the risk of MND.
"We are going to combine forces across Europe to better understand the disease.
"Our objective is to have the right drug in the right dose, for the right patient at the right time. We are almost there. MND is not an untreatable disease. It is an underfunded disease," she added.
For more information see mnd.ie/current-research/ and tcd.ie/medicine/neurology/