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Clue to disparity in hep C treatment

Research from Duke University in North Carolina shows that genetic differences between races influence the disparity in effectiveness of hepatitis C treatment

Research from Duke University in North Carolina shows that genetic differences between races influence the disparity in effectiveness of hepatitis C treatment. 

Treating hepatitis C infection with antiviral drugs interferon and ribavirin has shown to be much more successful in Americans of European descent than in African-Americans. The study at the Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina suggests that a genetic test based on the findings could help the decision on whether to undergo the standard treatment.

Using a genetic test called a genome-wide association study, a team at Duke University found that the coding at a single site on the DNA, out of the three billion sites in the human genome, made all the difference in people's response to treatment with antiviral drugs.

Standard treatment with the antiviral drugs interferon and ribavirin can give some patients flu-like symptoms and severe depression. The study indicates that the disparity in effectiveness of treatment is not down to differing compliance, however, or access to healthcare, as some assumed.

The single DNA site is close to the gene for a special kind of interferon, known as interferon-lambda-3, and may help control the gene's activity.

In a report released yesterday, on the website of the journal Nature, the team from Duke University said that people with two copies of a C genome at this site respond much better to the standard hepatitis treatment. The C versions are more common in Europeans than in Africans, and this may explain some of the differences in response between the two races.

The C versions are even more common among East Asians, about 75 per cent of whom respond well to the standard treatment, compared with 55 per cent of European-Americans and 25 per cent of African-Americans.

The study was financed by Schering-Plough, which owns the intellectual property rights on any diagnostic test developed from the discovery. Robert Consalvo, a spokesman for the company, said that the finding was an important first step but that he did not know of immediate plans to develop a diagnostic test. "Schering-Plough is not a diagnostic company," Consalvo said.

17th August 2009

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