Stubborn Challenges Remain With Hepatitis C, Rice Says

Dr. Charles M. Rice of Rockefeller University
Dr. Charles M. Rice of Rockefeller University

There is a difference in public health between being remarkably successful and truly effective, and perhaps no virus illustrates that chasm better than hepatitis C.

In the 27 years since NIH’s Dr. Harvey Alter helped identify HCV as the cause of a mysterious form of post-transfusion hepatitis, diagnostics have been created that have made the U.S. blood supply safe from HCV and drugs have been developed that can cure, through elimination of the virus from the body, more than 95 percent of cases.

“That’s quite a trajectory,” said Dr. Charles M. Rice of the Rockefeller University, who gave the George Khoury Lecture June 8 at NIH. But 100 percent eradication of HCV remains a stubborn challenge, he said. Rice believes a vaccine will ultimately be needed to nail that last 5 percent of the problem.

Further complicating the HCV picture is that most cases are undiagnosed. “Only about 10 percent of patients with HCV in the U.S. have been cured,” Rice said. “That’s not a very good track record.” An estimated 170 million people in the world are infected with HCV.

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Cell Transplants Could Treat Chronic Pain Caused by Nerve Damage

Dr. Allan Basbaum
Dr. Allan Basbaum

The best treatment for neuropathic pain, that is, chronic pain caused by nerve damage, only works in 30 percent of patients, and at best a 30 percent reduction of pain is typical, said Dr. Allan Basbaum at a recent Wednesday Afternoon Lecture in Masur Auditorium.

“There are a lot of people being under-medicated. They are being treated, but nothing is working, regardless of what they are trying,” said Basbaum, professor and chair in the department of anatomy at the University California, San Francisco. At the lecture, he summarized his efforts to develop alternative treatments.

Neuropathic pain is different from pain that results from other conditions. A patient with arthritis, for instance, might experience pain. That discomfort is caused by inflammation of tissues that surround a person’s joint. If the inflammation can be treated, the pain goes away.

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