UW News

December 5, 2002

New center to focus on genes and proteins related to hepatitis C

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a $9 million grant to the UW to support the newly formed Center for Functional Genomics and Hepatitis C Virus-Associated Liver Disease. This center is applying modern genomics, protein studies and computational technologies to study hepatitis C virus (HCV)-associated liver disease. The objective is to gain a detailed understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the progression from chronic HCV infection to end-stage liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C has emerged as the most important cause of advanced liver disease, cirrhosis and cancer of the liver in the United States.

“One of the fundamental unanswered questions about this disease is why some individuals develop progressive scarring of the liver resulting in cirrhosis whereas others are infected with the virus for years but experience no significant liver injury,” said Dr. Robert Carithers, professor of medicine and director of the hepatology section in the UW School of Medicine. “This grant is a unique collaboration between clinicians and basic scientists that will address the underlying causes for these differences in outcomes of patients with hepatitis C using the most sophisticated tools available to study gene and protein expression in liver cells.”

The center, directed by Dr. Michael Katze, UW professor of microbiology, includes a diverse group of NIH-funded investigators, including experts from the UW, the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) and other institutions.

“A distinctive aspect of this center is that we have gathered many of the world’s experts in viral hepatitis, liver disease and transplantation, global gene expression analysis, proteomics, and advanced information technologies in one center to study liver disease,” Katze said. “The collaboration with the UW transplant team provides access to HCV-infected liver samples that will allow us to study the disease in patient tissues. Historically, HCV has been difficult to culture in a laboratory setting, so patient samples will provide a wealth of information that cannot be obtained any other way.”

The center is one of several collaborations between the UW and ISB. Dr. Ruedi Aebersold, UW affiliate professor and member of the institute, specializes in the development of high-throughput technology to study proteins.

“We are excited about the successful funding of the program because it is the first time that we will be able to apply high-throughput proteomic technologies and computational tools developed here to an acute clinical problem, liver disease caused by HCV,” Aebersold said. “This innovative program will also enable us to further formalize and expand the research collaborations between the University of Washington and the ISB.”

The Institute for Systems Biology was founded by Drs. Leroy Hood, Aebersold and Alan Aderem in 2000. For more information on the institute, visit http://www.systemsbiology.org