Biomedical Engineers Develop Nanoparticles to Fight Persistent Viral Infections

Many sexually transmitted diseases spread by bacteria, like syphilis and chlamydia, can be controlled and cured with antibiotics. By comparison, cheap and effective treatments for viral STDs have largely remained elusive. Researchers in Mark Saltzman's lab are working to change that, developing nanoparticles to prevent infection by a widespread viral STD: herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

HSV-2 is unfortunately common in the United States. About one of every six people between the ages of 14 and 49 years has a genital herpes infection, and while the infection can be managed with treatment, it can't be cured. Worse, HSV-2 leaves individuals more vulnerable to additional infections, including HIV.

Saltzman, the Goizueta Foundation Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemical & Environmental Engineering & Physiology, has developed nanoparticles that deliver molecules to the potential infection site with the hope of preventing and treating HSV-2 infection.

In a paper in the Journal of Controlled Release, Saltzman and colleagues demonstrate that topical administration of their nanoparticles can improve survival after HSV-2 infection in mice.

The nanoparticles carry short interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules that have been shown to interfere with nectin-1, a protein involved in HSV-2 infection and cell-to-cell transmission. In their experiments, the researchers showed that their nanoparticles can both prevent lethal infection with HSV-2 in mice and increase survival time when administered in 3 applications, before and after infection. 

''This work provides proof-of-concept that these siRNA delivery vehicles are promising options for topical, localised therapeutics for sexually transmitted infections,'' says Jill Steinbach, a postdoctoral researcher in Saltzman's group and the lead author of the paper. ''We are excited to see such encouraging results of decreased symptoms associated with infection, and enhanced survival out to an unprecedented duration of 28 days.''