The mysterious link between cold sores and blindness

  • Friday, November 2, 2012

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (Nov. 2, 2012) - Dr. Victor Hsia, a pharmaceutical sciences professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, is the recipient of a major National Institutes of Health grant he will use to underwrite research into the virus that causes cold sores and complications that can lead to blindness and brain lesions.

    Dr. Victor Hsia_2012Over the next five years, Hsia will receive just under $750,000 to fund his investigation into "the cellular and molecular mechanisms of herpes simplex (1) virus during lytic and latent infections."

    The NIH program that selected Hsia's proposal is among the most prestigious administered by the federal agency, according to Dr. Nicholas Blanchard, dean of UMES' School of Pharmacy and Health Professions.

    "This is the most competitive research award to have been received by a biomedical scientist working on this campus," added Catherine Bolek, director of UMES' Sponsored Research & Programs office.

    The grant comes as Hsia is about to begin his 20th year of inquiry into how and why the herpes simplex (1) virus, which in most people is benign, can become virulent and cause blindness.

    "We do not fully understand the molecular reactions of this virus," Hsia said. "That's where my focus will be."

    Hsia has found evidence that people with serious health problems, such as hormone imbalance, are more susceptible to the virus becoming aggressive. There are also indications that people living in lower socio-economic conditions are more likely to develop complications from the virus as well.

    "Untreated, it is easy to get a bad diagnosis," Hsia said.

    In some instances, he said, complications caused by a virulent form of the herpes simplex (1) virus can be fatal.

    "Getting a major NIH grant is not only great news for Dr. Hsia, who is respected researcher, but it is also terrific news for the School of Pharmacy and Health Profession here at UMES," Blanchard said. "It shows we have top-flight faculty who can successfully compete for these grant opportunities with institutions across the country. His colleagues and I offer our congratulations."

    Hsia's research garnered him an invitation to appear as an Election Day guest on a lifestyle TV show produced by WBOC in Salisbury. In the seven-minute segment, Hsia talks about how his work in the lab translates into lessons he delivers in the classroom and how he is hopeful of finding a vaccine to prevent cold sores.

    Hsia received a Bachelor of Science degree from National Taiwan University and earned his doctorate in microbiology / immunology from Wayne State University in Detroit. He did a postdoctoral fellowship as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. from 1999 to 2004.

    Prior to his appointment at the UMES School of Pharmacy, Hsia was on the faculty at the University of Louisiana Monroe's College of Pharmacy. He taught courses of basic sciences such as pharmacology, immunology, physiology and pharmacogenetics.

    He has been a successful grant-writer throughout his career. He secured two research grants as a Principal Investigator for the Louisiana Board of Regents Research Competitiveness Granx