Australian scientists are developing a powerful new drug to prevent the herpes virus, based on a protein found in the blood of an Australian sea snail.
Abalone are edible, blue-blooded sea snails, and scientists have now found that the protein that makes their blood blue can also block the herpes virus from entering human cells.
The research began by accident, after the warts on a fish processor’s hands started to heal themselves after he’d spent a month working with the Tasmanian blacklip abalone around a decade ago.
After investigating what caused the warts to clear up, scientists from the University of Sydney and Marine Biotechnologies Australia found that a Tasmanian abalone protein known as hemocyanin has potent anti-viral properties.
“Hemocyanins are giant copper-containing glycoproteins and their primary function is to collect and deliver oxygen to desired tissues. Our study shows that abalone hemocyanin inhibits herpes simplex infection,” Fariba Dehghani, a bioengineer from the University of Sydney, explained in a press release.
"We know once infection occurs the virus integrates itself into a body's nerve cells where it lays dormant awaiting reactivation. When awakened it travels back along the nerve tracks to the surface where it takes the form of watery blisters and ulcers on the skin,” she said.
The researchers are now developing a drug based on the protein that will not only manage the symptoms of herpes, as current drugs do, but actually reduce the recurrence of the virus and speed up healing.
If successful, the drug could lead to a whole new class of anti-viral compounds.
Currently more than 70 percent of Australians carry the herpes simplex 1 virus, which causes cold sores, while 13 percent carry herpes simplex 2, which can cause genital herpes. Although there are medications to help shorten the length of flair-ups of the virus, there are currently no known treatments that can kill it.