"In short, we can disarm the virus such that it is absolutely unable to cause disease, but is still remarkably potent as a vaccine," Halford said.
In a human vaccine, the genetic instructions for ICP0 would actually be removed, creating an "attenuated," or weakened virus. The rest of the herpes simplex virus' genetic code would remain intact. Measles, mumps, rubella, polio and yellow fever vaccines are all made from attenuated viruses.
Research in recent decades has focused on subunit vaccines, which are made from one piece of a virus (a protein subunit). Subunit vaccines are safer than attenuated virus vaccines because the subunit cannot replicate or cause disease. However, subunit vaccines have proven ineffective in protecting people against persistent infections like genital herpes and AIDS, Halford said.
"From a theoretical standpoint, subunit vaccines are poor mimics of a natural virus infection," Halford said. "There's not enough there for our immune systems to build a protective response against the actual virus."
Halford, 38, is aware that his approach is controversial.
"This is where I'm young enough that I don't know how long it can take to swing popular opinion among scientists and clinicians," he said. "I would hope that in five to six years the scientific community would be willing to seriously consider these proposals."
Halford hopes to find a commercial partner or secure government funding to advance his research toward a human vaccine.
"I'd like to take this concept from the chalkboard to the clinics," he said.