Viral & Autoimmune Hepatitis
Dr Upkar Gill from Queen Mary University of London is investigating the immune and viral outcomes of treatment in patients with chronic hepatitis B, using a minimally invasive liver sampling technique.
Work from Dr Gill’s previous research groups showed that a subset of immune T and natural killer (NK) cells are only based in the liver and cannot be sampled in the blood. To solve this problem, they optimised the fine needle aspirates (FNA) method, allowing them to sample the liver in a relatively pain-free manner.
“Using this method, we can study liver immune cells and viral markers over time during therapy. We and others have shown that certain subsets of NK cells may be important in aiding the control of chronic viral infections.
“We will assess the function of these cells, along with their ‘energy’ demands, to see if they are more ‘exhausted’ compared to non-infected patients. We’re aiming to establish a ‘favourable’ NK cell subset and harness it to facilitate viral control, linking this with the level of virus in liver cells during treatment.”
This project will advance our understanding of immune cells and their interaction with the hepatitis B virus in liver cells during therapy. This work will also be vital for drug development in the search for a hepatitis B cure.
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Infectious diseases - viral hepatitis
Why is there a need to fund new research?
Viral hepatitis is an infection that causes liver inflammation and damage. Chronic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and liver cancer.
Viral hepatitis B and C affect 325 million people worldwide, causing 1.4 million deaths every year. Although hepatitis B is more common in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it still affects around 180,000 people in the UK. Around 215,000 people have hepatitis C, making it the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK.
Current and new viral hepatitis treatments can sometimes lead to a cure, but this is often hampered by medical cost, a high requirement for patient compliance, medical complications, and additional complications associated with the prospect of life-long antiviral therapy.
Due to inherent problems with existing treatments, new approaches are urgently needed.