Around 400 million people worldwide are infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV); of those, one-third will go on to develop life-threatening complications, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Although there is an effective HBV vaccine, only around 50 percent of people in some countries where the disease is endemic are vaccinated. A complete cure for the disease is very rare, once someone has been chronically infected.
To develop a treatment for HBV, researchers need to be able to study infected liver cells, known as hepatocytes, so they can understand how the virus interacts with them.
Raymond Chung, vice chief of the gastrointestinal unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the research, says that despite the availability of effective vaccines, researchers have made few inroads into eliminating HBV. “While we have excellent suppressive therapies, there are no truly curative treatments, in large measure because we have been handicapped by the lack of robust cell-culture models that support HBV infection,” he says.
“The new approach described here provides one avenue by which we may more effectively study the HBV lifecycle, and in so doing identify new agents that block additional steps in that lifecycle,” he adds. “Using such an approach could bring us one step closer to a cure for HBV.”
Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention