$50,000 will fund research on novel herpes treatment
“Fund tests of a new herpes treatment at the University of Florida.” That was the idea that won $50,000 for researchers at the University of Florida. The idea was proposed through the Pepsi Refresh Project, an online grant program of PepsiCo, Inc. that awards grants to projects intended to improve communities through an online voting process.
The University of Florida research team, led by principal investigator David C. Bloom, PhD, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at UF College of Medicine, submitted the idea to the Pepsi Refresh project to further fund their ongoing research into a ribozyme (an RNA enzyme) that has been shown to block infections of herpes simplex virus 1(HSV-1).
The goal of the treatment is to stop the herpes virus from replicating. Initial testing in mice and rabbits indicate the approach is effective, but more research is needed.
The UF team has been working on a new therapy to treat HSV infections for the past 8 years. In addition to Dr. Bloom, an expert on the molecular biology of herpes simplex virus latency and pathogenesis, the team includes Alfred Lewin, Ph.D., an expert on ribozymes; Gregory Schultz, Ph.D., an expert on wound healing in the eye; and Sonal Tuli, MD, an expert on the cornea and herpes infections of the eye.
The team’s initial work focused on an eye infection called herpes stromal keratitis, a form of ocular herpes that is the leading cause of infectious blindness in the U.S. The treatment approach studied uses a specially designed RNA molecule called a ribozyme that destroys Herpesvirus RNA that is required viral replication. In the course of their work, the team discovered that this approach had broader potential. As Dr. Bloom notes, “After years of work, the team was able to demonstrate that this ribozyme-based therapy had potential to treat not only HSV-1 infections in the eye, but on the skin as well. This started the push to perform the necessary preclinical tests to get approval from the FDA to conduct clinical trials.”
The Pepsi Refresh Project award gave the team a needed boost, and they continue their work exploring the potential of ribosome therapy. As Dr. Bloom told The Helper: “So far these funds have allowed the team to perform additional tests on the ribozymes and to refine the method of delivery. To date the results continue to look very encouraging and in a few months the researchers hope to have the data needed to obtain additional funding for the final phase of preclinical studies. The Pepsi Refresh Award came at a critical time and provided the much needed funds to keep work on this therapy moving forward. These studies continue to suggest that the ribozyme therapy could provide an alternative therapy to suppress recurrence of not only HSV-1, but possibly HSV-2 as well.”