Herpes Vaccine Looks Promising, Researchers Say
"We've been able to analyze the immune response that's generated in the mice, and ... we've found that it's the T-cell response, rather than the antibody response, that is essential for protection" against herpes, Rosenthal tells WebMD.
In herpes infection, the preliminary, T-cell response is inadequate, and there is no memory response.
"The herpes virus can escape antibody control," Rosenthal says. It moves directly from cell to cell without being recognized and eradicated. That's why having circulating herpes antibodies does not mean you've successfully fought off infection and are now immune, but rather that you've got the disease and are subject to repeated outbreaks. And that's why eliciting the T-cell response is key to the success of a herpes vaccine, Rosenthal says. "
According to Rosenthal, future studies will take a three-pronged approach: "We are looking at the vaccine for prevention, for treatment -- giving it to someone with herpes to reduce the frequency and severity of occurrences -- and as an added component in another vaccine, to boost the T-cell response."
Potentially, he says, this technology could be applied to any disease where the epitopes are known. He tells WebMD that early testing has already begun of vaccine systems for protection against malaria, HIV, heart disease, and cancer.
- One-fourth of the U.S. adult population is infected with genital herpes, and 600,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year.
- Scientists have developed a vaccine that prevents illness and death in mice with the illness, and hope to develop a similar vaccine for humans.
- Researchers hope the vaccine will work to prevent herpes as well as for treating those who already have the incurable disease.