UW News

October 30, 2000

Researchers receive $4 million, five-year grant to study hepatitis C

A $4 million dollar grant to create a co-operative research center on hepatitis C has been awarded to the University of Washington by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with the support of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Both agencies are part of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Nelson Fausto, chair of the UW Department of Pathology, heads the center.

The other investigators involved in the five-year grant are Dr. David Gretch, whose specialty is laboratory medicine, and microbiologist Dr. Michael Katze. There are five other such centers in the United States.

The collaborative research at the UW will be three-pronged:

* Fausto’s lab will create a system using human liver cells in which the hepatitis C can develop and grow. “The lack of such a system has been a major stumbling block in studies of this disease,” Fausto said.

* Katze will focus his lab’s attention on using gene array technology to study the patterns of gene expression in normal liver cells and cells infected with hepatitis C.

* Under Gretch’s direction, researchers will study the natural progression of hepatitis C in Alaskan natives. Gretch is trying to correlate the development of mutations of the hepatitis C virus in relationship to the progression of the disease. The Alaskans in the study will receive the current standard treatment for the disease, a combination of interferon and Ribavirin.

Applying the tools of genome analysis and other advanced technologies, a multi-disciplinary scientific coalition is using the centers across the country to expand investigations of acute and chronic infections caused by the hepatitis C virus. HCV was first identified in 1989. It is now estimated to infect about 3 percent of the world’s population, including almost 4 million Americans. It is spread primarily through contact with infected blood. The virus damages the liver slowly, often without any obvious symptoms, and without being detected during routine medical exams.

HCV can result in devastating liver damage. Treatment of the disease, with a combination of the drugs Interferon and Ribavirin, is effective in only 35 percent of diagnosed cases. Hepatitis C leads to about 10,000 deaths and about 1,000 liver transplants each year in the United States.