Hopes for a hep C jab within 10 years

A vaccine for hepatitis C (HCV) could be available within 10 years, according to research presented this week at the Society for Microbiology's 161st meeting at Edinburgh University.

Up to 500,000 patients in the UK are infected with HCV and it is the leading cause of liver transplant in the UK.

However, although vaccines for hepatitis A and B are available, no vaccine has yet been developed that can prevent infection with any strain of HCV

There are many strains of HCV and often many thousands of different strains can be found in a single patient. This is because HCV is an RNA virus, and mutates very rapidly. Now, UK researchers are designing a vaccine that will target a specific region of the virus which is the same across all variants, and which the virus needs in order to infect cells.

Researchers from Nottingham University isolated strains of the virus from around the world and extracted the genes for the glycoproteins E1 and E2 which are found on the surface of the envelope of the virus. The virus uses these proteins to attach itself to human cells and to gain entry and infect the cells.

They showed that these glycoproteins were dependent on a single receptor molecule on the surface of the cell to gain entry to it. Using human monoclonal antibodies developed by other groups, they then showed in vitro that preventing the interaction between the HCV and this receptor molecule neutralised the virus and prevented infection.

Dr Alexander Tarr, from the virus research group at the University of Nottingham, said: 'We showed that every variant was dependent on a single receptor molecule on the surface of the cell to gain entry to the cell.

'If you disable that entry mechanism with monoclonal antibodies, you knock out the viruses' infectivity completely.Now we're trying to identify which combinations of these antibodies could be used in a vaccine.' The clinical potential of this work cannot be overstated, added Dr Tarr.

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