Researchers develop first successful laboratory model for studying hepatitis C

By differentiating monkey stem cells into liver cells and inducing successful infection, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have shown for the first time that the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can replicate in monkeys, according to research published in the journal Gastroenterology. The new findings may lead to the first new animal model and provide new avenues for developing treatments and vaccines for this disease, which impacts more than three million people in the United States.

Scientists have tried for decades to develop animal models to study HCV, but the virus was incapable of infecting any species except for humans and chimpanzees. With a recent National Institutes of Health-imposed moratorium restricting chimpanzee research, the Mount Sinai research team turned to a close relative of and humans—macaques. Led by Matthew Evans, PhD, and Valerie Gouon-Evans, PhD, of Mount Sinai, the research team sought to find out why previous attempts to infect macaques with HCV failed.

Dr. Gouon-Evans, who is Assistant Professor of in the Department of Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Mount Sinai, worked with a team at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle to differentiate macaque stem cells into . Dr. Evans, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology, and his team then attempted to infect these cells with HCV in a . They found that these differentiated cells were able to support HCV infection and replication, although not as effectively as in human liver cells.

"Now that we know that HCV infection in macaque cells is possible, we wanted to find out why it only worked in liver cells that were derived from ," said Dr. Gouon-Evans. "By identifying where in the viral life cycle the infection is dysfunctional, we can develop an effective of HCV."

Dr. Evans and his team found that HCV was less efficient at entering macaque cells to initiate infection compared to human cells because changes in the macaque form of a certain cell surface receptor rendered it less functional than the human version. This cell entry block could be overcome by expressing the human version of this receptor in macaque cells. Furthermore, HCV of normal macaque cells was greatly enhanced by changes to the virus that loosened its requirements for that receptor.

"Our discovery shows that by manipulating either host or viral genetics we can efficiently infect macaque cells," said Dr. Evans. "These findings may open doors for the field of HCV research, lead to new animal models, and hopefully vaccines and therapies."

Next, Dr. Evans plans to take these experiments out of petri dishes by attempting to infect macaques in vivo with the mutant HCV that can use the receptors this animal naturally expresses. If successful, this work would provide a new, much-needed animal model for HCV studies and vaccine development.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New focus to combat rising liver disease

Jul 26, 2013

University of Adelaide researchers are investigating how the liver responds to hepatitis C virus (HCV) and why some people can control the virus while others can't. The aim is to find better therapies to combat hepatitis ...

Improved culture system for hepatitis C virus infection

Jul 16, 2008

A University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researcher has developed the first tissue culture of normal, human liver cells that can model infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and provide a realistic environment ...

Hepatitis C-like viruses identified in bats and rodents

Apr 22, 2013

As many as one in 50 people around the world is infected with some type of hepacivirus or pegivirus, including up to 200 million with hepatitis C virus (HCV), a leading cause of liver failure and liver cancer. There has been ...

Recommended for you

Ebola mistakes should serve a lesson says WHO

6 hours ago

The World Health Organization's chief admitted on Sunday that the UN agency had been caught napping on Ebola, saying it should serve as a lesson to avoid similar mistakes in future.

British Ebola nurse discharged from hospital

13 hours ago

A British nurse who contracted Ebola while working as a volunteer in Sierra Leone said she was "happy to be alive" as she was discharged from hospital on Saturday having made a full recovery.

Tide turning in Ebola fight after hard lessons

Jan 24, 2015

A top U.N. official in the fight against Ebola greeted just three patients at one treatment center he visited this week in Sierra Leone. Families in Liberia are no longer required to cremate the remains of ...

Just five Ebola cases left in Liberia: UN

Jan 24, 2015

The United Nations said on Saturday Liberia was dealing with just five remaining cases of Ebola, in the clearest sign yet that the country is nearing the end of the outbreak.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.