Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have discovered in a study that charcoal can improve the efficacy of a popular drug used for the treatment of herpes.
The new approach will not only help to make treatment more effective but also to guard against the problem of drug resistance that some patients experience.
The charcoal-based drug delivery system is called DECON, an abbreviation for Drug Encapsulated Carbon. Researchers combined it with Acyclovir, a topical drug that doctors often prescribe for herpes treatment.
Using the new approach, doctors may be able to reduce the frequency of dosing for the medication. This can help against resistance and side effects.
“Combining herpes medication with activated charcoal makes the drug more efficient,” said senior study author Deepak Shukla, professor of microbiology and immunology at the UIC College of Medicine.
According to the Marion Schenk Professor of Ophthalmology, the use of lower doses of acyclovir reduces the risk of kidney damage as well.
Patients who use this medication for a long time often suffer serious kidney damage.
Findings from the study were published in the journal Science Advances.
The most common herpes viruses that attack humans are herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2).
The first type is mainly a problem of the eyes and mouth, being a major cause of blindness across the globe.
As for herpes simplex 2 virus, it is responsible for infections of the genital region. The viral infection is somewhat synonymous with blisters.
Acyclovir commonly features in the treatment of people with any of the two herpes types. One problem with the drug, however, is the potential of its use leading to resistance. Another issue is that long-term use of this medication can lead to kidney damage.
Activated carbon, or charcoal, has a reputation of exerting decontaminating effects – a major reason some water filters include it. Particles bind to it with ease. Activated carbon helps to trap and eliminate harmful substances.
Researchers in the current study decided to test how charcoal could help as a delivery system because of its structural characteristics.
Enhancing drug potency with charcoal
In the study, researchers examined the effect of plain activated carbon alone and a combination with acyclovir on the two types of herpes virus.
When cells were treated with plain activated carbon in the lab before viral exposure, the infection rate dropped. There was a reduction of 4 to 60 percent, compared to when cells were infected with herpes without prior application of activated carbon.
The researchers then tested a combination of activated carbon and acyclovir in mice exposed to HSV-1 or HSV-2. They applied the mixture to the eyes or genitals of the animals. The treatment exhibited more rapid action and improved efficacy in easing inflammation and lowering viral load, compared to acyclovir alone.
The findings suggest that the carbon-based delivery system could make it possible to use significantly lower doses of the drug to reduce inflammation and viral load.
Tejabhiram Yadavalli, a co-inventor of the delivery system, explained that the herpes virus is drawn more to the charcoal than the drug. The virus, along with other molecules and particles, gets attracted to and interacts with it, the charcoal slowly discharges the medication.
“The activated carbon acts like a slow-release drug capsule,” the postdoctoral fellow said. “Because it likes to bind with the virus, this gives it additional anti-viral properties.”
Shukla said the drug delivery system could be useful for reducing drug dosing for herpes. It may also prove useful for lowering the risk of kidney damage as well as the cost of treatment. In time, it may feature in lubricants to guard against fresh genital infection due to herpes.