£820,000 for research into human herpes virus, post-infection pain and associated encephalitis.

February 2014

Red test tubes

£820,000 to increase understanding of human herpes viruses that cause shingles, chicken pox, common cold sores and genital herpes.

Although they usually cause mild disease, infection can be life threatening through a brain infection known as encephalities and infection can have longer-term health implications, such as post-infection pain. We made funds available to increase understanding of these viruses and post-infection complications.

The Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) infects humans to cause the common childhood infection chickenpox. Following chickenpox, VZV remains dormant in the nerves for the lifetime of the person. In about 25% of people, VZV becomes active again, travelling down the nerves to cause the painful skin rash know as shingles. Shingles rash can cause significant pain which can last for weeks or months, even after it has healed. If the pain persisits for longer than 3 months after the rash has healed, it is known as post herpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN can be debilitating.

Dr Daniel Depledge, working at University College London, was awarded £299,838 to determine whether there are particular strains of VZV that are more likely to cause PHN.  He will also investigate the mechanism by which these strains become active after many years of dormancy to cause shingles and PHN.

Dr Mandy Glass (University of Glasgow/MRC Centre for Virus Research) was awarded £246,020 to investigate the role of cellular proteins in the establishment and maintenance of dormancy in nerves infected with VZV and the virus that causes oral and genital herpes, and in the reactivation of the viruses often after considerable periods of time. Dr Glass said “The MRF grant is of enormous value to me….  It will also allow me to carve my niche in virus research and lay the foundations to pursue a career in cutting edge virology and raise funding to establish my own group in the future.”

Dr Vanessa Sancho-Shimizu, working at Imperial College London, was awarded  £270,049 to investigate the human genes involved in these diseases by looking at the  DNA from patients  with encephalitis  following herpes virus infection. Dr Sancho-Shimizu said “My research aims to understand the underlying genetics determining the most severe diseases associated with the human Herpes viruses, in particular encephalitis. My research will undoubtedly shed light on the pathogenesis of this disease, and potentially lead to the development of novel treatments. This award is providing me with a unique opportunity to develop this research whilst also giving me the scientific and financial independence I require to build a solid foundation for a lifelong research career”.

In supporting these three talented researchers, the Medical Research Foundation is  aiming to increase the cadre of the UK’s research leaders working on human herpes viruses and to bring a step closer,  better treatments for these diseases and their complications.

The awards were possible thanks to generous legacies from Peggy Hart, in memory of her mother Ann Hart, who had suffered from shingles-associated pain in the last years of her life, and  Jean Martin who wished to support research on encephalitis.