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Landmark FSU study of hepatitis C virus solves mystery that has stymied quest for cure

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects more than 170 million people worldwide and leads to both acute and chronic liver diseases. Since its discovery several decades ago, the insidious human pathogen has stymied the quest for anti-viral therapies by refusing to reproduce in test tubes for more than a few hours or days, denying scientists an efficient virus production and infection system for experimental research.

Now, in a landmark study by Florida State University biologists that could bolster the development of anti-viral therapies for HCV as well as for related RNA viruses such as West Nile and influenza Assistant Professor Hengli Tang and doctoral student/co-author Heather B. Nelson have discovered the molecular mechanism that inhibits HCV replication in vitro after its host cells become crowded and stopped dividing.

What's more, their groundbreaking discovery came about as a result of the new test they developed that can quickly and easily monitor HCV replication in the laboratory.

Finally, after Tang and Nelson uncovered the reason for suppression of the virus in cell culture in a nutshell: not enough nucleotide molecules, the building blocks of HCV they then adapted an existing cell technology to remedy the problem right in the test tube.

The Tang-Nelson study and a description of the innovative technologies they devised to enable and track it will appear in the Feb. 8 edition of the Journal of Virology.

"Our findings could prove critical to research on HCV's complex virus-host cell interactions and lead to better, targeted treatments," Tang said.

"Currently, any nucleotide starvation therapies, used primarily to treat cancer, can inhibit replication by depriving viral agents of their molecular building blocks. However, those therapies may impact healthy cells, as well, causing undesired side effects."

In the human liver, the parasitic HCV makes copies of its genetic material by hijacking nucleotide
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Contact: Hengli Tang
tang@bio.fsu.edu
850-645-2402
Florida State University
7-Feb-2006


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