Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine recently developed a new vaccine against genital herpes. The vaccine was shown to be effective in mice and guinea pigs, Penn Medicine News reported.
In the study, published on Sept. 20 in Science Immunology, Penn Medicine researchers delivered this vaccine to 64 mice, 63 of which were protected from the disease and showed “sterile immunity,” the highest level of immunity where there were no signs of infection after exposure. The researchers also administered the vaccine to 10 guinea pigs, whose response to genital herpes is more parallel to that of humans. None of the animals involved in the study showed signs of genital lesions.
Harvey Friedman, professor of infectious diseases and principal investigator of the study, told PhillyVoice that the next step would be to explore the vaccine’s effect on humans.
"There's no guarantee that because we're doing great in mice and guinea pigs that it will work in humans," Friedman told PhillyVoice. "But what we can say is that we're doing better in mice and guinea pigs than anyone else ever has done. The next step is how will it do in humans?"
The vaccine is meant to be preventative. Genital herpes, also known as HSV-2, is a common sexually-transmitted disease, with 14% of people aged 15 to 49 infected in the US and 11% globally, according to the study. The study also noted that HSV-2 also increases the risk of being infected with HIV.
“This vaccine is aimed at trying to prevent herpes," Friedman told PhillyVoice. "We're not doing this as a treatment to those that are already infected. The target population would be adolescents before they're sexually active."
Other herpes vaccines just block the virus from entering cells, according to Penn Medicine. In this case, the “trivalent vaccine” was filled with mRNA, or specific messenger RNA, and stimulated three varieties of antibodies. The first prevents the virus from entering into cells while the other two ensure that immune system responses still occur and are not terminated by the virus.
Penn has led in vaccine development in the past. In 2017, Penn researchers developed an effective and safe vaccine for the Zika virus.