What it is:
Viral hepatitis is caused by viruses that infect the liver. The most common in Canada are hepatitis A, B and C. Hepatitis B and C can become chronic and lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
What we know:
The hepatitis B virus is spread through infected blood or body fluids and is significantly more infectious than the HIV virus. It is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide. The hepatitis C virus is transmitted through contact with infected blood. Although recent treatment breakthroughs have improved the prognosis for patients, hepatitis C is still the leading cause of liver transplants in Canada.
What the CLF is doing:
- When the body becomes infected by a virus, it responds by producing interferon to fight it. Interferon activates hundreds of genes in liver cells and in many cases these genes are able to clear the virus. For this reason, all current hepatitis C treatments use interferon despite the fact that interferon can cause significant side effects for patients. Dr. Jordan Feld (University Health Network, Ontario) is tackling this issue in two ways. First he is researching exactly which genes are required to clear the hepatitis C virus which will make it easier to develop treatments that target these genes without activating the ones that trigger side effects. Second, he and his colleagues are working to identify new genetic markers that can predict whether or not a patient will respond to treatment. The goal is to create a simple panel of blood tests that can help doctors to determine which treatment options would be best for their patients.
- While a large proportion of people infected with hepatitis B or C are able to clear these viruses on their own, why this happens is still a mystery. When the liver first comes under attack, it rallies cells called Natural Killer T (NKT) cells to fight off the hepatitis virus. Dr. Mark Swain (University of Calgary, Alberta) is using a CLF research grant to study how this early immune response works and how it determines whether a person can clear hepatitis or whether it will become a chronic condition.
To learn more about Hepatitis A click here, B click here and C click here
To make a donation to support liver health research, click here.