Promising roadmap for Human Herpes Vaccine

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WASHINGTON: Montana State University Virologist Bill Halford has successfully tested a herpes vaccine in mice, opening new avenues for the development of a new vaccine to prevent humans from contacting genital herpes and other diseases caused by herpes simplex viruses.

In a study published earlier this year in the Virology Journal, MSU Virologist William Halford had shown that mice exposed to genetically modified herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) did not show any sign of disease 30 days after being exposed to a particularly lethal ‘wild-type’ strain of the virus.

Whereas, mice that had been administered a more conventional vaccine died within six days of being exposed to the same ‘wild-type’ strain.

"We have a clear roadmap for producing an effective live vaccine against genital herpes," said Halford, who works in MSU's Department of Veterinary Molecular Biology.

"Although my studies were performed with HSV-1, the implications for HSV-2-induced genital herpes are clear. Overall the two viruses are about 99 percent genetically identical," he added.

For his study, Harford created a vaccine that could disrupt genetic instructions that made ICPO, a protein produced by herpes that tricks every infected cell into destroying its own armour. He found that the vaccine had stopped the spread of the virus in mice, long before the disease could occur.

"In short, we can disarm the virus such that it is absolutely unable to cause disease, but is still remarkably potent as a vaccine," he said.

For developing a human vaccine, he says, 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.

However, Halford said that it might take five-six years for work on creation of such vaccines to begin.

"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," he said.

Halford is now looking for a commercial partner to advance his research toward a human vaccine.

"I'd like to take this concept from the chalkboard to the clinics," he said.

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