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10,000 Hepatitis C patients could hold the key to better treatment

Researchers at Barts and the London Medical School will be leading the London arm of a £2 million project to establish a database of 10,000 patients infected with hepatitis C.

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Professor Graham R Foster
Professor Graham R Foster

The London team, led by Professor Graham Foster, will be part of a UK-wide network of researchers aiming to find new ways to tackle the deadly infection.

The Medical Research Foundation,  an independent registered charity established by the Medical Research Council, is funding the project.

While there has been considerable progress in the scientific understanding of hepatitis C in recent years, it is currently extremely difficult to track the spread of the virus and to understand the biological roots of the illness.

The new initiative will create HCV Research UK - a consortium of clinicians, academics and healthcare professionals, which aims to promote UK-wide research into the infection.

The lack of strategic surveillance of the disease in the UK has also made it harder for doctors to determine why some patients can develop symptoms as soon as they are infected, while others only go onto develop cirrhosis of the liver after many years. By collecting and analysing clinical samples taken from patients, the project will also help researchers examine why certain patients fail to respond to treatment.

At least 250,000 people in the UK are thought to be infected with the blood-borne virus, which can cause severe liver damage in up to 20 per cent of patients. Hepatitis C is ten times easier to contract than HIV, with prisoners and drug users particularly vulnerable to infection.

Professor Foster said: “Rates of Hepatitis C are rising and it’s a major cause of illness and death in the UK. The creation of this database will have a major impact on research and will ultimately improve the treatments for patients.”

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