Posted on May 03, 2023, 1 p.m.
According to a study on herpes infections of the eye from the University of Illinois Chicago published in Science Advances, researchers are another step closer to stopping herpes infections as a new protein has been discovered that is important in viral infections, opening new paths to antivirals that could decrease the chances of reinfection.
Heparanase proteins are found in all of our cells, blocking this protein and stopping its activity has been found to protect the eyes from being reinfected. In animal studies, mice with the protein blocked showed no signs of cornea cloudiness after a second infection, compared to unaltered control mice with corneas that showed significant signs of reinfection.
Additionally, when this protein is activated due to infection it was discovered that the immune system may exacerbate symptoms during a second infection. When heparanase is malfunctioning the virus is more likely to cause disease in those who had been previously infected with the virus.
When taken together the findings suggest that inhibiting heparanase protein activity may be an effective way to prevent reinfection with herpes simplex virus type 1, and it could potentially lead to a breakthrough in the prevention of the recurrence of these infections.
“We wanted to know if we could better protect them from infection, and we found that we could,” explained Chandrashekhar D. Patil, co-lead author of the study, and a visiting scholar in the department of ophthalmology and visual science.
Those who are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 multiple times are at an increased risk of health complications like blindness and ulcerative disease, making it important to find a way to reduce reinfection. The researchers suggest that these findings can have a significant impact on public health as they can help provide information about the possible mechanisms of reinfection with other viruses, as other research indicates that heparanase plays a role in coronavirus reinfections as well.
It was noted that additional research is required to determine and understand the most effective and safe way to inhibit heparanase to prevent viral reinfections, but the findings suggest that blocking this protein could be a promising drug target for future research.
“This could be the wonder drug down the road,” he said. “We could be looking at a broad spectrum antiviral drug.”
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