Hepatitis C virus is now growing in the laboratory
New Cell System allows first statement of comprehensive lifecycle
With the help of a new cell system, it is now possible to increase hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the laboratory. Scientists in Heidelberg and Tokyo have developed a cell system in which the full life cycle of HCV - so until they leave the infected cell from entering the cell via the propagation within the cell - can be shown in the laboratory.
"This is a milestone in the study of hepatitis C and will give both the additional basic research and the development of appropriate active ingredients and vaccines against the virus decisive impetus," said Professor Ralf Bartenschlager, director of the Department of Molecular Virology at the University Hospital Heidelberg and mainly responsible organizer 11th International Symposium "Hepatitis C and related viruses" from 3 to 7 October 2004 in Heidelberg.
Infection with HCV is a major cause of chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver and hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cell cancer) worldwide. In Western Europe, around one to two percent of the general population and 170 million people worldwide Cira are chronically infected with this virus. The liver failure as a result of chronic hepatitis C is now in most industrialized countries the most common indication for liver transplantation represents.
Despite the declining number of new infections can be expected in the next 20 to 30 years with a further increase of patients with long-term consequences of chronic hepatitis C, if not improved therapies are developed.
Agents interfering with replication cycle of the virus
"We need drugs that are more effective and better tolerated than the current forms of therapy with the active interferon-alpha and ribavirin," said Dr. Raffaele DeFrancesco, scientific director of the Biochemistry Department of the Instituto Ricerche Biologia moleculare in Rome. Only about half of all treated patients respond to these drugs. In addition, the therapy needs to be frequently interrupted because of severe side effects.
The researchers are now focusing on two viral factors (enzymes) that the virus needs to multiply in an infected cell: The so-called polymerase mediated replication of the viral genome. The second objective is the protease. It cleaves proteins and is responsible for the production of virus multiplication factors. The aim is to inhibit these enzymes selectively in the infected cells and thus to stop the virus spreading.
"There are seven potential HCV drugs in early clinical trials," said Dr. DeFrancesco, "and we can expect even more to come." However, such studies are lengthy and it can take, be available to first effective drugs for routine use in patients five to seven years.
Potential vaccines are designed to protect
The vaccine development is driven, like Dr. Michael Houghton of Chiron Corporation, USA and discoverer of HCV reported. However, potential candidates are not yet in clinical trials. High hopes put scientists on therapeutic vaccines that are intended to provide protection against chronic. While not prevented vaccination with such a drug the infection, but may protect against the serious long-term consequences. For serious liver damage occurs almost always until many years after infection, so put a chronic infection ahead. If it is possible to eliminate the virus from the body in time, the probability that a liver damage developed, extremely low. A preventive vaccination against HCV, there is not currently. This is mainly due to the high variability of the pathogen, which is able to change its properties relevant for the immune response very fast.
Due to the high research and development needs in the therapeutic area as well as in basic research, takes place every year a conference on "Hepatitis C Virus and Related Viruses" instead. At this year's meeting to take about 650 participants from more than 30 different countries.
(University of Heidelberg, 07.10.2004 - NPO)
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