A team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have identified a new approach that may soon lead to the discovery of a vaccine to treat the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The approach was detailed in a recent paper in Physical Biology.
More than 170 million people worldwide have HCV, and as many as 350,000 die per year from complications arising out of HCV infection. Over the past few years, there has been a revolution in HCV treatment, with medications that amount to a cure. But vaccination would combat two significant lingering challenges: the high cost of current pharmacologic treatment, and the difficulty in identifying and correctly diagnosing the condition. Yet, despite two decades of research into the virus, an effective vaccine has yet to be developed.
The researchers are hoping to change that through a data mining and computational approach that uses “spin glass” models from statistical physics. The model is borrowed from work used to describe the behavior of magnets and fluids. Applied to HCV, the goal is to chart the effects of manipulating certain proteins and antigens that constitute the virus.
Recent data confirmed that hepatitis C virus was transmitted to several patients at a dialysis clinic during a 6-year duration, underscoring the importance of aggressive infection control measures.
“Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is several times more prevalent among hemodialysis patients than the general U.S. population,” CDC researchers wrote. “Outbreaks of new HCV infections have been reported in U.S. dialysis centers, typically associated with lapses in infection control (IC), including improper parenteral medication handling and preparation, inadequate cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces between patient treatments and poor hand hygiene and glove use.”
During an epidemiologic investigation, the researchers evaluated HCV test results of all patients treated at an outpatient hemodialysis clinic in Philadelphia from January 2008 through April 2013. HCV tests were performed at admission and then annually for patients deemed susceptible to infection. All patients also underwent monthly screening for serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT); those with elevated ALT were tested for HCV antibodies.
SHABAS EL SHUHADA, EGYPT –Abdel Gawad Ellabbad knows exactly how he was infected with hepatitis C.
As a schoolboy in this Nile Delta rice-farming village, his class marched to the local clinic every month for injections against schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease spread by water snails.
A nurse would boil the syringes, fill each with five doses and then jab five boys in a row with a single needle.
Naggie is the first physician in her family, so she describes her path to infectious disease as “an adventure” in which she followed her instincts and her patients’ leads to her final destination. Along her path, Naggie encountered many patients with HIV and subsequently found her niche in infectious disease.
To this day, she values working with patients with HIV and now viral hepatitis through their introduction to and education in the disease space. Naggie wants them to live without either disease defining their parameters. To this end, she considers herself a clinician first and researcher second, with her research driven by her patients — their questions and their need for improved care. Bedside medicine, she said, is something to be treasured.
Currently, Naggie also holds an appointment within the section of GI/Hepatology Research at the Duke Clinical Research Institute where she is principal investigator on several clinical trials of direct-acting antivirals for the treatment of HCV in HIV-infected patients and she staffs two HIV/HCV coinfection multidisciplinary clinics at Duke and the Durham VA Medical Center. She also has active roles with the International Antiviral Society-USA’s Viral Hepatitis Committee and the HCV Guidelines committee through AASLD.
Some people were surprised when West Virginia became one of the first Southern states to operate an above-ground syringe exchange program. But for Jim Johnson, now retired Chief of Police for Huntington, West Virginia, syringe exchange was a common sense solution to an increasingly complex problem.
“We were looking at a drug problem that we didn’t see any answers for,” he says. “We were arresting more people than ever, housing more people in prison and jail, and narcotic seizures were higher than we’ve ever had, but the drug problem was just getting worse.”
So Johnson met with Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, who launched an Office of Drug Control Policy to look into the problem. They started talking to community members about drug-related issues. With the help of Deputy Chief Jan Rader they also started collecting data and realized that heroin seizures and hepatitis C rates were rising rapidly at almost the exact same rates among the same population of drug users. They looked at costs. Shockingly, they discovered that their small county of 97,000 residents would spend $50 million to $90 million dollars in 2015 on the cost of health care treatment alone, including treatment for hepatitis B and C, HIV, and injection-related complications.