College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Drug test offers hope for Hep C patients

People with hepatitis C are being offered hope by a new screening system that helps target drugs to individual patients.

Scientists at the University have developed a laboratory technique that allows hepatitis C drugs to be tested for effectiveness on a particular individual before they are prescribed.

It will also help to monitor whether and when the virus becomes resistant to drugs and provide the means to evaluate the effectiveness of switching to other antiviral medicines.

Personalised medicine

Hepatitis C virus affects around 170 million people worldwide and is spread by blood to blood contact.

Although the infection generally occurs with few or no immediate symptoms, long term carriers are at high risk of both liver disease and liver cancer.

Only one anti-viral treatment is currently available, which is effective in only half of cases and often with serious side effects such as severe fatigue and depression.

The scientists grew versions of all six strains of the hepatitis C virus and used them to infect liver cells.

The team, led by Professor Peter Simmonds, then tested a range of drugs on the infected cells and analysed each drug’s effectiveness on each strain of the virus.

They also monitored each strain to identify any signs of drug resistance.

This new system will make it easier to select in advance the best treatment option for each individual patient, saving them from ineffective treatments with potentially serious side effects.

Ingrid ImhofResearcher at the University’s Centre for Infectious Diseases

The research is published in the Journal of Virology and has been funded by the BBSRC.