Hopes for an effective vaccine and treatment against the potentially fatal hepatitis C virus (HCV) have received a major boost following the discovery of two 'Achilles' heels' within the virus.
A team of medical researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) studied individuals at high risk of HCV infection, including a number identified within a few weeks of the onset of infection.
Using a new technique called next generation deep sequencing and sophisticated computer analytics the team, led by Professor Andrew Lloyd and Associate Professor Peter White, were able to identify the 'founder' virus responsible for the initial infection and then track changes within the virus as it was targeted by the immune system.
"We discovered that hepatitis C has not one but two 'Achilles' heels' that provide opportunities for vaccine development," said Dr Fabio Luciani, from UNSW's Inflammation and Infection Research Centre and the research team's biostatistician.
"If we can help the immune system to attack the virus at these weak points early on, then we could eliminate the infection in the body completely," he said.
A paper describing the breakthrough appears in the leading scientific journal in the field of virology, PLoS Pathogens.
Hepatitis C virus infection is a global pandemic with more than 120 million people infected worldwide, including some 200,000 Australians. The virus causes progressive liver disease leading to cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer. Current antiviral treatments are arduous, costly, and only partially effective.
Team member and virologist Dr Rowena Bull said the discovery of the weakest links meant vaccine researchers could now focus their attentions on the most likely avenues for success.
"The first weak point was identified at transmission, when the virus has to survive the transfer from one individual to another," Dr Bull said.
"The second weakness, and surprise finding, was the significant drop in the diversity of the viral variants in each individual studied, occurring about three months after transmission, around the time where the immune system is starting to combat the virus. A lower number of variants means the virus is easier to target."
Study leader Professor Lloyd said the discoveries were significant because of their potential to overcome longstanding barriers to hepatitis C vaccine development.
"To date hepatitis C has been difficult to target with single interventions because there are many different strains of the virus," he said. "In addition, like HIV, the hepatitis C virus mutates very rapidly and exists as a complex family of mutated viruses within every infected individual, meaning the virus can avoid efforts by the immune system to keep it under control," Professor Lloyd said.
"What's more, a third of infected people can have an effective immune response that eliminates the virus early on. This means key initial immune responses were difficult to identify and study because early infection and elimination can go unrecognised."
Professor Lloyd said work is now underway to identify the key immunological features of the founder viruses in order to guide new vaccines.
"Further research will test the extent of the immune response against these founder viruses in a cohort of very early infected individuals," he said.
The research team included members from UNSW's Kirby Institute, The University of Western Australia and Murdoch University, and was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) Program Grant and by grants from Australian Centre for HIV and Hepatitis Virology.
Professor Andrew Lloyd | EurekAlert!
Researchers release the brakes on the immune system
18.10.2017 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
Norovirus evades immune system by hiding out in rare gut cells
12.10.2017 | University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research