World Hepatitis Day

First published: 23/07/2013

Updated at: 06/12/2013 at 10:52 am

July 28 marks World Hepatitis Day.

Hepatitis C Viral (HCV) is the leading cause of death from a blood-borne virus in Australia, with nearly 10,000 new hepatitis C viral infections annually in Australia. Hepatitis viruses cause infection and inflammation of the liver which can eventually lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

A team at the  Burnet Institute in Melbourne, lead by A/Prof Heidi Drummer, is working to develop a vaccine for HCV, and the research is based as much out in the streets as it is in the lab.

The Institute has been involved in studies of a large number of injecting drug users, who have been recruited in the community and have volunteered to help research how HCV is transmitted and what constitutes ‘immunity’ to the virus.

The ImmunoMonitoring Facility at Burnet processes and banks the cells and sera for the research studies, and these are used to study immunity to HCV and clearance of infection. This information is critical for developing and validating assays of HCV immunity that will be used for early phase clinical trials of the HCV vaccine in the next year.

Director of the Facility, Dr Rosemary Ffrench said “Some people’s immune systems can quickly clear the infection of the HCV, while others can be reinfected or go on to lifelong infection and develop serious complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer.” Knowing the detail of the protective immune biomarkers and developing well validated and robust assays will help progress the development of the much needed vaccine for prevention of HCV infection.

The ImmunoMonitoring Facility performs a wide range of validated assays of immune function. Dr Ffrench is an immunologist with more than 25 years of experience studying viral immunity in human cohort studies and in vaccine development and testing. She is backed by a team of senior scientists, and state-of-the-art equipment which includes a BD FACS Verse flow cytometer with high throughput capacity which can perform immunophenotyping, intracellular cytokine staining and flow-based functional assays. The facility is accredited by NATA under its R&D accreditation program as conforming to the international quality management standard ISO/IEC 17025. This means data generated in Australia is recognised internationally, and should help in reducing the time it takes for the HCV vaccine to get to the people who need it.

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