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Study gives insight into hepatitis C's cell hijacking

Category: Blood and Blood Diseases

For the last 20 years, researchers have known that the hepatitis C virus spreads by invading cells and using the body's RNA to create viral proteins, but recently, scientists from the University of Colorado (CU) School of Medicine have discovered the method by which the virus takes over and manipulates cells.

During the study, Jeffrey Kieft, Ph.D., an associate professor at the CU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and former graduate student Megan Filbin, Ph.D., collaborated with researchers from the lab of Tamir Gonen at the Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. By analyzing images that Kieft took of RNA molecules interacting with the hepatitis C virus using electron microscopes and studying the results from other experiments they conducted, the investigators were able to reveal the method that the virus uses to invade cells.

The researchers noted that the recent findings may have implications for novel treatments.

"This points the way to developing drugs to fight hepatitis C in ways that current therapies do not," said Kieft.

Hepatitis C facts
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that hepatitis C results in inflammation of the liver. Some at-risk groups for the disease include people who have been on long-term kidney dialysis, health workers who regularly interact with blood, people who have sexual intercourse with people who have the virus, intravenous drug users, people who received a blood transfusion before 1992 and people whose mothers had hepatitis C during their pregnancies.

Some symptoms of the disease, according to the NIH, include abdominal pain, dark urine, fatigue, itching, jaundice, nausea and vomiting.

While there is currently no cure for hepatitis C, there are therapy methods that may effectively minimize the damage caused by the virus. During treatment, patients receive injections and take oral medications for about 24 to 48 weeks to try and remove the virus from the blood and prevent cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The NIH notes that people who have hepatitis C should be cautious about taking supplements and over-the-counter medications, and that patients should speak to a healthcare provider before doing so. People should also refrain from drinking alcohol or any substances that may be toxic to the liver.

To prevent contracting hepatitis C, people should avoid coming into contact with blood, injecting drugs or sharing needles with a partner. Although it is more difficult to get the virus via sexual intercourse, the NIH notes that partners should get screened with a blood test and that hepatitis C is less prevalent among monogamous couples.


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