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Racial differences explored in treatment response for hepatitis C

CHAPEL HILL - The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has been granted $1.5 million to join seven other medical centers around the country to determine if African-Americans respond less well to anti-viral drug therapy for hepatitis C infection than Caucasians.

Hepatitis C is a serious viral infection of the liver transmitted primarily through infected blood and blood products. Approximately 2.7 million Americans and 170 million people worldwide are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C is often described as "silent" because people may be infected for 10 to 30 years and not exhibit symptoms, yet still be carrying the virus. While many patients with hepatitis C will not develop complications from their liver disease, chronic hepatitis C is still a leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and is the major indication for liver transplants in this country.

The VIRAHEP-C clinical trial is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health. The trial will study the effectiveness of combination therapy with long-acting pegylated interferon alpha-2a (PEGASYS) and ribavirin, an anti-viral medication. A total of 400 patients will be enrolled, equally divided between African-Americans and Caucasians.

The study was prompted in part by statistical analyses of large databases from previous anti-viral studies that suggest racial disparities exist in response to therapy for chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus.

"Major advances have occurred over the last decade in the field of anti-viral therapy for chronic hepatitis C. Unfortunately, response to therapy has not been uniformly favorable across all populations," said Dr. Michael W. Fried, associate professor of medicine and director of clinical hepatology at UNC.

Fried, a principal investigator in the trial, noted that sustained response rates in hepatitis C patients h
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Contact: Leslie H. Lang
llang@med.unc.edu
919-843-9687
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
15-May-2002


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