A nanoparticle-based vaccination against genital herpes

 

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[Writer] This is research news from UIC, the University of Illinois at Chicago. Today, Deepak Shukla, professor of ophthalmology and microbiology & immunology in the UIC College of Medicine, talks about a new approach to vaccinating against the herpes simplex-2 virus using specially-engineered nanoparticles. Here is professor Shukla.

[Shukla] An effective vaccine against the virus that causes genital herpes has evaded scientists for decades. The relatively common virus, which increases the risk for acquiring HIV three- to four-fold, continues to spread relatively unchecked. My lab, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, together with researchers from Kiel University in Germany, have recently published a paper in The Journal of Immunology that shows how specifically-produced zinc-oxide nanoparticles which are shaped like jacks, can prevent the herpes virus from entering cells and also help facilitate the development of natural immunity to the virus.

We call this virus-trapping nanoparticle a microbivac, because it possesses both microbicidal and vaccine-like properties. The nanoparticles were synthesized using technology developed by Rainer Adelung, professor of nanomaterials and Yogendra Mishra, leader of the nanomaterials group at Kiel University in Germany and protected under a joint patent with UIC.

The way our tetrapod-shaped zinc-oxide nanoparticles, called ZOTEN, work is through basic electrical charges that attract. The ZOTEN have negatively charged surfaces that attract the HSV-2 virus, which has positively charged proteins on its outer envelope.

When the herpes virus is bound to the nanoparticles, it can’t infect cells: the nanoparticle/virus complex is simply too large to pass through the cell membrane. The bound virus is also in a precarious position because it is exposed to processing by immune cells called dendritic cells that patrol the vaginal lining. The dendritic cells engulf and process the virus, presenting pieces of it to other immune cells that produce antibodies specific to the herpes virus. The antibodies cripple the virus and trigger the production of customized killer cells that identify infected cells and destroy them before the virus can take over and spread.

If ZOTEN is proven to be safe and effective in humans, a ZOTEN-containing cream would ideally be applied vaginally just prior to intercourse. It would provide immediate protection against the virus, and if a woman who had been using it regularly missed an application, she may have already developed some immunity and still will have some protection.

In our future studies, we plan to further develop the nanoparticle to work against HIV, because HIV, like HSV-2, also has positively charged proteins embedded in its outer envelope.

Using the flame-transport synthesis technique developed by my colleagues in Germany, large-scale production of the ZOTEN particles is possible. We hope to begin commercial production of the particles soon through a startup company that will be run by my lab at UIC together with the researchers at Kiel University.

[Writer] Deepak Shukla is professor of ophthalmology and microbiology & immunology in the UIC College of Medicine. For more information about this research, go to www dot news dot uic dot edu. This has been research news from UIC, the University of Illinois at Chicago.