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Treatment of feline ocular herpesvirus infection

Each year, the Winn Feline Foundation receives proposals from veterinary researchers around the world who are interested in improving feline health. To date, Winn’s cumulative total in feline health research funding exceeds $4 million. Forty-four proposals were submitted by researchers seeking funding in this review cycle. This year, our team of veterinary consultants helped Winn select 10 projects for funding, for a total of $174,018. Here is one of those projects:

Development and in vitro optimization of hydrogels for the delivery of FHV specific siRNAs encapsulated in chitosan nanoparticles
Investigators: Rebecca Wilkes, Scott Lenaghan, Christopher Stephens; University of Tennessee

Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) typically causes respiratory disease in cats. However, chronic infections can cause severe eye disease that may lead to blindness. Currently there is no effective treatment for these chronic cases. Previous Winn funding has helped the investigators design a therapeutic agent – small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) – which use the cell’s own machinery to inhibit viral replication through the targeting of essential herpesvirus genes. The investigators have developed a nanoparticle delivery vehicle composed of chitosan, a nontoxic substance, to package these siRNAs for delivery into cells. The goal of this study is to develop a hydrogel, similar to a soft contact lens, for delivery of the nanoparticles. The hydrogel can be placed directly into the cat’s eye, allowing for successful drug uptake. This method will also provide extended continuous delivery of the FHV-1 specific siRNAs into the cells of the cornea. This study will potentially lead to development of a product suitable for use in cats’ eyes for the treatment of FHV-1 infections.