How close are scientists to a vaccine for hepatitis C?

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Matti Sällberg, professor at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institutet about the current status of vaccine for hepatitis C. 

Bild på Matti Sällberg"We've developed a treatment vaccine that has just been tested on infected patients, and several similar projects are underway around the world. A hepatitis C virus infection, unlike all other chronic virus infections in people, can be cured, and we hope that the vaccine will do this. Our results show that our vaccine can activate an immune defence response that temporarily inhibits the viruss propagative capacity. What´s extremely exciting is that now that the patients from the vaccine study are receiving regular treatment, the first four have responded unusually quickly. We therefore hope that we´ll be able to enhance the effect of standard treatments. We´re also working on improving the vaccine so that it can be used as a treatment on its own."

Facts about Hepatitis C

Affects: There are some 200 million people with hepatitis C in the world, and some 40,000 in Sweden. In Sweden, the main sufferers are needle users, but globally the disease is spread by a lack of hygiene in hospitals and clinics.

Caused by: A blood-borne virus, which causes an inflammation of the liver that in 50 per cent of cases becomes chronic, with sufferers developing cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Problem: Current medicine is not universally effective. It is also expensive, takes time and has serious adverse reactions. The treatment of the most common variant, called HCV genotype 1, is the worst in this respect.

 Text: Cecilia Odlind. First published in "Medicinsk Vetenskap" no 1 2010.