How could you improve on the immune system? It fights off bacteria and viruses that invade our bodies. How about a new type of vaccine -- one that stops dangerous viruses from even entering the body?
Geoffrey Letchworth, a virologist in the Department of Animal Health and Biomedical Sciences, has developed such an experimental vaccine for bovine herpes virus 1 (BHV-1). When sprayed into a cow's nose, the vaccine stimulates the animal's immune system to make antibodies. These antibodies line the cow's nasal passages and block the virus from entering the animal.
The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences researcher believes the vaccine holds great promise for improving cattle health. BHV-1 infections cause abortions among pregnant cows and lead to shipping fever. These problems cost the U.S. livestock industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year in vaccine and veterinary bills, and in lost production.
Letchworth is equally excited by the implications his findings have for controlling viral diseases in humans. "I think our research here will ultimately benefit human health," he says. "For example, our vaccine is way ahead of vaccines for human herpes viruses." Among the family of human herpes viruses are the viruses that cause cold sores, chicken pox, shingles, roseola, mononucleosis, Kaposi's sarcoma and cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections.
Although there is encouraging new evidence that drugs might eliminate the Human Immunodeficiency Virus from individuals with AIDS, animals and humans do not eliminate herpes viruses once they have become infected. The immune system suppresses these viruses, which hide in the body and can become active again during periods of stress. Current herpes vaccines don't keep out viruses either.
Letchworth's approach builds on scientists' growing understanding of the role mucous membranes play in viral infections.