Engineering a new way to study hepatitis C

Jan 25, 2010
Liver cells in a micropatterned co-culture form tube-like structures (shown here in green) that resemble bile capillaries found in a human liver. Image courtesy of Sangeeta Bhatia lab, MIT

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at MIT and Rockefeller University have successfully grown hepatitis C virus in otherwise healthy liver cells in the laboratory, an advance that could allow scientists to develop and test new treatments for the disease.

About 200 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C, which can lead to or cancer, and existing drugs are not always effective. To develop better treatments, researchers need to test them in laboratory experiments in , but it has been difficult to create a suitable tissue model because healthy liver cells tend to lose their liver functions when removed from the body.

Previously, researchers have been able to induce cancerous liver cells to survive and reproduce outside the body, but those cells are not sufficient for studying hepatitis C because their responses to infection are different from those of normal liver cells.

Now, Bhatia, in collaboration with Charles Rice of the Rockefeller University, has developed a way to maintain liver cells for four to six weeks by precisely arranging them on a specially patterned plate. The cells can be infected with hepatitis C for two to three weeks, giving researchers the chance to study the cells' responses to different drugs.

The new model, described in next week's issue of the , could allow researchers to test the effectiveness of various combinations of drugs, including interferon, a common current treatment, and experimental that may block the virus from entering cells.

The researchers used healthy liver cells that had been cryogenically preserved and grew them on special plates with micropatterns that direct the cells where to grow. The liver cells were strategically interspersed with other cells called fibroblasts that support the growth of liver tissue.

"If you just put cells on a surface in an unorganized way, they lose their function very quickly," says Bhatia. "If you specify which cells sit next to each other, you can extend the lifetime of the cells and help them maintain their function."

The current system may already be suitable to screen drugs against the strain of used in this work; however, this strain, which was derived from a Japanese patient with fulminant is the only strain ever successfully grown in a laboratory environment. The researchers hope to modify the system so they can grow additional strains, such as those more common in North America, which would allow for more thorough drug testing.

Explore further: US warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries

More information: "Persistent hepatitis C virus infection in microscale primary human hepatocyte cultures," Alexander Ploss, Salman Khetani, et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, week of Jan. 25, 2010.

Related Stories

Hepatitis C virus blocks 'superinfection'

Apr 05, 2007

There’s infection and then there’s superinfection – when a cell already infected by a virus gets a second viral infection. But some viruses don’t like to share their cells. New research from Rockefeller University ...

Keeping hepatitis C virus at bay after a liver transplant

Oct 01, 2009

One of the most common reasons for needing a liver transplant is liver failure or liver cancer caused by liver cell infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV). However, in nearly all patients the new liver becomes infected with ...

Molecules may help predict survival in liver cancer

Jan 30, 2008

Tiny molecules that help cells regulate which proteins they make might one day help doctors predict which liver-cancer patients are likely to live longer than others, new research suggests.

Improved culture system for hepatitis C virus infection

Jul 16, 2008

A University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researcher has developed the first tissue culture of normal, human liver cells that can model infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and provide a realistic environment ...

Recommended for you

WHO: Ebola moving faster than control efforts (Update)

3 hours ago

An Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 700 people in West Africa is moving faster than the efforts to control the disease, the head of the World Health Organization warned as presidents from the affected ...

Quick blood test for malaria

3 hours ago

Siemens is working on a procedure that would allow blood to be routinely tested for malaria. Physicians normally diagnose the tropical disease by using a microscope to search for parasites in blood samples. ...

User comments : 0