The Center for the Study of Hepatitis C is actively involved in both clinical and basic science research. By attempting to understand how the virus replicates and causes the death and destruction of the normal liver, the Center hopes to be able to identify new treatments for those infected with the hepatitis C virus. Innovative research at the basic level and in the clinical setting provides the foundation of the Center's therapeutic excellence.
Clinical research studies are underway to address the following questions concerning the pathogenesis of hepatitis C:
- What is the major cause of liver cell death in hepatitis C? Is it a direct result of the virus or is it caused by the immune system as it is trying to clear cells infected by HCV?
- How do the current medications that are used against hepatitis C work to get rid of the virus?
- How quickly does the viral load decrease in individuals who are treated with medications to control hepatitis C?
- How does infection with HIV affect the clearance of HCV after starting anti-hepatitis medication?
- What special considerations apply to the pediatric hepatitis C population?
Scientists in the Center are actively involved in studying the natural history, structure and biology of the hepatitis C virus and its interaction with cells of the liver and the immune system. Research questions include:
- How does HCV enter cells?
- What cell types support HCV replication? Are there non-hepatic reservoirs?
- How do viral and cellular factors work together to produce progeny virus?
- What kinds of innate or adaptive immune responses are required to eliminate or control the infection?
- Can such information be used to develop prophylactic or therapeutic vaccines?
- What viral and host determinants control the outcome of infection?
The Center is actively developing several new technologies necessary for the advancement of HCV research including:
- Efficient replication systems for hepatitis C virus in cell culture
- Assays for drug screening and evaluation
- Identification of new drug targets
- Small animal models of hepatitis C infection
- Genomics, including gene profiling and proteomics
The Center focuses on improving current treatment and developing new therapies for HCV through large multicenter as well as small-scale clinical trials. In addition, a serum-and-tissue bank has been established at the Center to provide an important repository for current and future studies of HCV. A computerized database has also been created to collect patient information. This database was designed to maintain patient confidentiality while allowing prospective and retrospective analysis of information.