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New Study Supports Using Naltrexone to Treat Long Covid

Dr. Sonya Marshall-Gradisnik and her team have been developing a new way to treat patients with ME/CFS and Long Covid, and her most recent work may be a game changer. Dr. Marshall-Gradisnik and others have already shown that in patients with these diseases, a protein called TRPM3 doesn’t work well. TRPM3’s main job is to let calcium ions cross membranes of different types of cells (including immune cells, brain cells, gut cells, and heart cells). In patients with ME/CFS or Long Covid, poor TRPM3 functioning especially affects natural killer cells (immune cells that kill cancer cells or virus-infected cells), interfering with their ability to process signals and to do their job. Interestingly, a well-known drug, naltrexone, boosts TRPM3 in these cells and reduces symptoms—three in four patients with ME/CFS who took low doses of naltrexone had better cognition, better sleep, and better stamina. Because we already use naltrexone to help people with other diseases (for example, substance abuse), we may also use it to help patients with ME/CFS.

In this most recent study, Dr. Marshall-Gradisnik’s team confirmed that TRPM3 worked as poorly in natural killer cells from patients with Long Covid as it did in cells from patients with ME/CFS. They also showed that treating Long Covid–patient cells with naltrexone returned TRPM3 function to normal.

These results are important for several reasons. First, they show that ME/CFS and Long Covid have something important in common—in both cases, TRPM3 functions poorly in natural killer cells. Second, they suggest we may use naltrexone to boost TRPM3 and to reverse symptoms for patients with Long Covid, just as we may do for patients with ME/CFS. Finally, these results suggest levels of TRPM3 activity can tell how well medicines work for treating these diseases, a critical insight that will help design clinical trials testing new therapies.

To push forward the possibility of using naltrexone to treat patients, Dr. Marshall-Gradisnik and her colleagues have started two clinical trials—one to test naltrexone for treating patients with ME/CFS; the other, for treating patients with Long Covid. Thus, Dr. Marshall-Gradisnik’s work may finally produce a bona fide treatment for patients with these severe diseases.

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