press release
Published: 27 September 2019

University of Surrey academic awarded £500,000 to investigate cold sore virus

By Natasha Meredith

A team of experts from the University of Surrey has been awarded £500,000 from the Medical Research Council to undertake ground breaking research into herpes simplex virus, the virus that causes cold sores or genital blisters.

Close up of a virus
Getty Images

Researchers led by Professor Gill Elliott will investigate VHS, a protein made by herpes simplex virus to manipulate the cellular environment in favour of the virus. Initial findings from the team indicate that the protein targets and destroys specific components in the cell creating a setting that allows the virus to grow and spread.  

State of the art technology and microscopy will be used by the researchers to look inside cells and identify any unique features of the VHS targets that may help explain why they are being destroyed. The impact of the protein on the virus itself will also be investigated, as the researchers hypothesise that it may prompt infected cells to make large numbers of structural components that facilitate virus growth.

Once infected, the virus remains in the body for life and can have a profound effect on sufferers. Increased susceptibility to HIV, infectious blindness and viral encephalitis are all possible consequences of infection. With close to 4 billion currently infected,  herpes simplex virus is therefore a major global problem, placing a huge economic burden on health systems across the world.

Gill Elliott, Professor of Virology at the University of Surrey, said: “It has proven very difficult to develop a vaccine to prevent herpes simplex infection, and although drug treatments are available to limit disease, they have had no effect on the widespread epidemic. New treatments are urgently needed.

“To understand how to treat viruses like herpes simplex, it is important to discover how they subvert the normal activities of our cells. This award to work on VHS will enable us to understand the function of this fascinating protein, and could potentially provide us with the information we need to stop the herpes simplex virus in its tracks.” 

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