Public Release:  Possible Hepatitis C vaccine

Society for General Microbiology

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infects up to 500,000 people in the UK alone, many of the infections going undiagnosed. It is the single biggest cause of people requiring a liver transplant in Britain. Now scientists have found monoclonal antibodies which may make a successful vaccine a reality, researchers heard today (Tuesday 4 September 2007) at the Society for General Microbiology's 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs from 3-6 September 2007.

Hepatitis treatment is expensive and only successful in half of patients. Untreated or unresponsive patients can go on to develop cirrhosis of the liver, with life affecting consequences or the need for a transplant.

In a collaborative effort with groups across Europe and the USA, scientists from Nottingham University have recently identified antibodies that can successfully prevent infection with many diverse strains of Hepatitis C virus in laboratory models.

"The clinical potential of this work cannot be overstated. Historically, successful vaccines against viruses have required the production of antibodies, and this is likely to be the case for Hepatitis C virus", says Dr Alexander Tarr from the Virus Research Group at the University of Nottingham. "Identifying regions of the virus that are able to induce broadly reactive neutralising antibodies is a significant milestone in the development of a HCV vaccine, which will have distinct healthcare benefits for hepatitis sufferers, and could also help us design vaccines for other chronic viral diseases such as HIV".

Hepatitis C virus infects 180 million people worldwide. Infection with the virus can lead to liver cancer, and is the most common reason for liver transplantation in both the UK and the USA.

"We are also currently exploring the possibility of improving liver transplantation success rates by passively infusing people with these antibodies" says Dr Tarr. "We are also using the information gained by identifying and characterising the antibody responses to Hepatitis C virus to design new ways of making vaccine candidates. If the antibodies we have discovered can be reproduced by vaccination, control of the disease might be possible".

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Notes to News Editors:
For further information contact Dr Alexander Tarr, Division of Microbiology Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, University of Nottingham, tel: 0115 823 0746, fax: 0115-823-0759, email: alex.tarr@nottingham.ac.uk

Dr Tarr is presenting the paper 'Human antibodies to Hepatitis C virus - potential for vaccine design' at 1615 on Tuesday 04 September 2007 in the Young Microbiologist of the Year Competition of the 161st Meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, 03 - 06 September 2007.

For press enquiries during the meeting please contact the SGM desk on +44 (0) 131 650 4581 or mobile telephone +44 (0) 7824 88 30 10

For enquiries prior to the meeting contact Lucy Goodchild at the SGM office, tel: +44 (0) 118 988 1843, fax: +44 (0) 118 988 5656, email: l.goodchild@sgm.ac.uk

Full programme details of this meeting can be found on the Society's website at: http://www.sgm.ac.uk/meetings/MTGPAGES/Edinburgh07.cfm. Hard copies are available on request from the SGM.

The Society for General Microbiology is the largest microbiology society in Europe, and has over 5,500 members worldwide. The Society provides a common meeting ground for scientists working in research and in fields with applications in microbiology including medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals, industry, agriculture, food, the environment and education.

The SGM represents the science and profession of microbiology to government, the media and the general public; supporting microbiology education at all levels; and encouraging careers in microbiology.

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