The WHO estimates that there are around 3.7 billion people under 50 years of age infected with the virus that causes cold sores also known as herpes labialis. New gene therapy seems to have found a definitive solution to this problem that affects more than half (67%) of the world population in this age range.
A group of scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Center in the United States has adopted a gene-editing method to eliminate the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), responsible for causing infections in or around the mouth, which is latent in the body.
In the framework of research, carried out in animal models, it has been possible to achieve a decrease of at least 90% in the presence of the latent virus in the body, which the researchers hope is enough to prevent the infection from returning.
“This is the first time that scientists have been able to enter and eliminate most of the herpes in a body. (…) Our objective is the root of the infection: the infected cells where the virus remains inactive which are the seeds that they lead to repeated infections,” said Dr. Keith Jerome, lead author of the study, quoted by Science Daily.
In addition to using two pairs of genetic scissors to damage the HSV-2 DNA, the scientists adjusted its delivery vehicle to the infected cells and aimed it at the nerve pathways that connect the neck to the face, thus reaching the tissue where the virus remains, inactive, in people with the infection.
So far, most of the research related to the herpes virus has focused on finding ways to suppress the recurrence of symptoms. Jerome, for his part, hopes that the research he has led will allow the scientific community to “begin to think about the cure, rather than simply about controlling the virus.”
At the moment, the experiments were carried out with mice and it is still necessary to wait sometime before they can move on to the first clinical trials on humans. Jerome, who began developing the method about a decade ago, estimates that it will take at least three more years for it to be tested on humans.
Scientists hope to use a method similar to the one developed to also cure the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), responsible for causing genital herpes.