GAINESVILLE, Fla. A new therapy being developed at the University of Florida could, in time, produce another weapon for the fight against herpes.
The gene-targeting approach uses a specially designed RNA enzyme to inhibit strains of the herpes simplex virus. The enzyme disables a gene responsible for producing a protein involved in the maturation and release of viral particles in an infected cell. The technique appears to be effective in experiments with mice and rabbits, but further research is required before it can be attempted in people who are infected with herpes.
"If things worked out the best they could, I think this could be a measure to prevent recurrence, and that would help a lot of people and even if it just reduced severity, it would give us another therapy in cases where there is drug resistance," said David Bloom, Ph.D., a virologist at the UF College of Medicine who leads the interdisciplinary research team investigating the new therapy.
The work was published in the Journal of Virology in August.
The HSV-1 strain of the herpes virus causes cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth, genital herpes, a deadly but rare type of encephalitis, and keratitis, a scarring of the cornea that leads to vision loss. HSV-2 is the more common cause of genital herpes.
Existing herpes treatments work because the active ingredients target viral building blocks, and become incorporated into the virus' genetic material and shut down its ability to make copies of itself. In so doing, the drugs limit the severity of herpes lesions.
"They work pretty well, and they keep the disease in check, but there's no real cure," said Alfred Lewin, Ph.D., a molecular geneticist on the research team.
Current treatments also can cause inflammation, and in many people the virus becomes resistant and there is no back-up medication. In HSV keratitis, even after a corneal transplant the virus can hide out in n
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