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HCV Vaccine Shows Promise in Chimpanzees

In May 2007, scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the University of Freiburg in Germany and the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio reported progress in the development of a hepatitis C vaccine. The experimental vaccine uses pieces of the actual virus, minus the genetic material that would otherwise make it infectious.

The need for a hepatitis C vaccine is critical because of the global spread of the virus and the severe complications associated with chronic infection and subsequent long-term effects on the liver. These complications include cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver cancer and eventual degeneration of the organ’s functions. It is estimated that 170 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C.

In the study, eight chimpanzees were injected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV); half were given the vaccine beforehand. Of the vaccinated group, one chimp developed signs of a low-level infection but quickly cleared the virus. The three other chimps, while infected with a somewhat higher level of HCV, cleared the virus within 10 weeks. In the un-vaccinated group, three chimps developed signs of chronic infection while one chimp cleared the infection on its own. The same research team is now testing the experimental vaccine against other strains of HCV.

“You want to prevent the chronic infection in disease,” said T. Jake Liang, chief of the liver diseases branch at NIH’s National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “This is the goal we are targeting, and preliminary data suggest that this is possible — although I think there are other ways that we can improve the effectiveness of this vaccine.”

The report “Immunization with Hepatitis C Virus-Like Particles Results in Control of Hepatitis C Virus Infection in Chimpanzees,” was published in the May 15, 2007 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: (online), May 2, 2007


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