A team of researchers in Seattle believe they’ve found a cure for oral herpes, the virus that causes painful cold sores for 10 million Americans.
And their discovery also could pave the way to eradicating genital herpes, they believe.
Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson cancer center in Seattle have succeeded in eliminating 90% of the virus through gene therapy, or what team leader Dr. Keith Jerome described as gene editing, according to their findings, which were published Tuesday in Nature Communications.
“A lot of smart scientists have been really hesitant to think about a cure. To them, a cure was like selling snake oil. It just wasn’t a realistic goal,” Jerome told The Post. “Now, they’re talking about a cure.”
The researchers used tiny enzymes, transported through the body in harmless viruses, to cut the herpes DNA, Jerome told The Post.
When the virologist’s team launched experiments a decade ago on infected mice, they used only one kind of enzyme and discovered that sliced genes could heal themselves.
Over the years, they found that combinations of enzymes — “molecular scissors,” as Jerome called them — could rip the herpes virus to shreds and prevent it from regenerating.
Jerome told The Post his team is hoping to wipe out oral herpes, which lurks in two-thirds of the world’s population under 50, and they’re also seeking to end genital herpes, which afflicts nearly 500 million people worldwide between the ages of 15 and 49, according to the World Health Organization estimates.
For infectious disease expert Anthony Nicola, an ex-Brooklynite who does research at Washington State University in Pullman, the success of Jerome’s gene therapy is nothing short of a medical breakthrough.
“We’re scientists. We approach everything with caution, but there’s a lot of cautious optimism… for a cure,” Nicola told The Post. “This is really exciting. There’s something really new here.”
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