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TV Show Delivers Hope for Hepatitis C

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. September 8, 2010

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A recent television news piece helped boost awareness of Hepatitis C – but it also may have created false hope by alluding to the speedy arrival of a Hep C cure.

As the number of people receiving a Hepatitis C diagnosis grows, media attention focusing on this virus has intensified. Education about the prevalence and potential severity of Hepatitis C is badly needed to raise awareness of this highly communicable and often asymptomatic (until it’s too late) disease. A television program broadcast in June of 2010 is to be commended for spearheading such an awareness campaign; but it also has some people expecting a cure for Hepatitis C to arrive unrealistically soon.

As described in a recent TV presentation, scientists around the world are fervently working to find effective, safe drugs for treating and preventing Hepatitis C. However, those who are not familiar with the process of drug development could easily misinterpret the progress described on television with the notion that a vaccine for Hepatitis C will hit the market any day now.

Believed to currently infect between four and five million Americans, those infected with Hepatitis C far outnumber those with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. A leading cause of chronic liver disease that has no vaccine or reliable cure, Hepatitis C presents many challenges to the medical community. Among those challenges are:

  • The current treatment in effect is only successful in about half of all cases.
  • The virus demonstrates an ability to develop drug resistance.
  • Chronic Hepatitis C can progress to severe or even fatal liver disease.

According to their website, KQED Public Television 9 is one of the nation’s most-watched public television stations during primetime with more than 1.5 million households viewing per month. A KQED weekly program, This Week in Northern California with host Belva Davis follows a magazine format and is committed to news and public affairs. The June 25, 2010 episode of This Week in Northern California featured an informative piece entitled “Hepatitis C: The Silent Epidemic.” Summing up this segment, KQED reports:

“A San Francisco Task Force on Hepatitis C is helping to find a cure for the disease, which is four times more prevalent in the Bay Area as AIDS. …Dr. Jeffrey Glenn and his team of researchers at the Stanford University School Of Medicine are looking for compounds that will prevent the Hepatitis C virus from replicating. And at the Gladstone Institutes at UCSF, Dr. Melanie Ott and her staff are doing groundbreaking research on the relationship between the virus and fat droplets in the liver that could soon lead to a cure.”

Watching the video segment delivers hope to those waiting for a reliable solution for Hepatitis C. The researcher interviewed appears excited to be a part of a Hepatitis C-soon-to-be-cure. While it is hard not to get caught up in the excitement, the research from Stanford and UCSF’s Gladstone Institutes are still in the beginning stages of making progress against this virus.

A scientific discovery that further unravels the mystery behind Hepatitis C is definitely reason for celebration, but it is far from delivering a cure. After realizing the clinical impact of the discovery, scientists begin the process of identifying potential substances that could inhibit or fight the virus. Once a promising medication is apparent, the testing of that drug is a long process. Typically taking about 12 years to come to fruition, a new drug must persevere through pre-clinical testing, clinical trials and U.S. Food and Drug Association (FDA) approval before it finally reaches the marketplace. For more detailed information about this process, read “An Overview of the HCV Drug Development Process.”

The research described in the KQED segment is encouraging. Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology found that an important viral protein, called the “core” protein, localizes to the mitochondria. Through examining liver fat droplets in the mitochondria, new mechanisms for treating Hepatitis C could follow. While drugs capitalizing on this information could be in the future, there are others that are closer to actualization. This television program focused solely on San Francisco Bay area developments. However, there are other medications, such as telaprevir, that have already endured years of development. Shown to drastically boost the Hepatitis C cure rate, telaprevir could be available to the public as early as 2011.

Good job to KQED for bringing the lack of Hepatitis C awareness and education to the forefront. The research focusing on fat droplets in the liver is invaluable to the eventual conquering of the Hepatitis C virus, but it has not yet produced a cure. As we see more education campaigns exposing the gravity of Hepatitis C infection, a greater level of comprehension will also be needed to understand the drug development process. In the meantime, rest assured that progress is being made – and even if it doesn’t end the Hepatitis C epidemic this year – the scientific community is certainly headed in that direction.

References:

http://news.ucsf.edu/fyi/daily/2010/06/28/, UCSF Television Coverage, Retrieved August 26, 2010, The Regents of the University of California, 2010.

http://www.gladstone.ucsf.edu/wp/2010/02/hepcviralprotein/, Hepatitis C Viral Protein Associates with the Mitochondria, Retrieved August 25, 2010, J. David Gladstone Institutes, 2010.

http://www.hepatitis-central.com/mt/archives/general_hepatitis_c_newsupdates/, An Overview of the HCV Drug Development Process, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved August 28, 2010, Natural Wellness, 2010.

http://www.kqed.org/tv/programs/thisweek/watch/archive/226569/b, Hepatitis C: The Silent Epidemic, Retrieved August 26, 2010, KQED, 2010.

http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4915/2/5/1195/, Lipid Metabolism and HCV Infection, Paul Targett-Adams, et al, Retrieved August 25, 2010, Viruses, May 2010.

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