Groundbreaking research to find vaccine for hepatitis C

March 04, 2010

Researchers at the South West Liver Unit, based at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust and supported by the Peninsula Medical School, are working to save more lives and improve the health of Hepatitis C sufferers around the world by developing a vaccine for the disease.

In addition to a grant of £95,000 from the Mary Kinross Charitable Trust, the team have recently been awarded a grant from Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust to expand and continue their work.

Dr. Matthew Cramp, Consultant Hepatologist and director of the research team said: "We're incredibly grateful for the funding we have received. It'll allow us to take on another research fellow and help take our research on to a new level."

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that is transmitted through contact with the infected blood of other people. It is estimated that as many as 1500 people in and around Plymouth have the disease, and most do not know that they have it. Once infected by hepatitis C most people are not able to clear the virus and are at risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer and ultimately an early death.

Treatment is available for Hepatitis C, but it is effective in only about half of those treated. It is also expensive and can have many unpleasant side effects.

Doha Hegazy, post-doctoral research scientist with the team said: "Hepatitis C is a major global problem with 180 million sufferers worldwide. Our work has a real chance of identifying how some people can become protected from the disease, which in turn could lead to more effective treatments and even vaccinations."

The research team at the South West Liver Unit is trying to find a vaccine by examining what it is that is special about the white blood cells of people who are naturally immune to the disease. In order to do this, the team identified a group of people who were known to have been exposed to Hepatitis C despite a long history of intravenous drug use and repeated exposure. It is an unusual group and the team has amassed the largest cohort of such research subjects that exists worldwide.

The information that the research team is gathering will help them to work out how the Hepatitis C virus interacts with liver cells and the body's immune system. This will in turn prove crucial in designing vaccines that may be able to block the virus.
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The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry

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