New use for old drugs in treating hepatitis C

Jun 07, 2010

Common drugs used to treat conditions such as diabetes and obesity could be used to successfully treat hepatitis C virus infection.

Research led by the University of Leeds has found drugs such as anti-diabetic drug and AICAR, used to combat obesity, can prevent the virus from replicating in the body.

Hepatitis C virus affects an estimated three per cent of the world's population and there are four million carriers of the virus in Europe alone. The virus affects the liver and recovery rates are low: only around 40 per cent of hepatitis C sufferers will fully recover, with others developing cirrhosis and in many cases, .

"We're very excited about these findings," says Professor Mark Harris from the University's Faculty of Biological Sciences. "These drugs are already on the market, and whilst substantial clinical trials still need to take place before they can be used to treat , we think it could be an enormous step forward in the battle against the virus."

The research was supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Drugs such as Metformin and AICAR work by stimulating an enzyme called AMP kinase (AMPK) which regulates energy within our cells - the very enzyme that hepatitis C virus represses to enable it to replicate.

AMPK's usual function is to conserve the in cells, which it does by temporarily shutting down the production of lipids (fats) and membranes when it senses an increase in energy requirements. Professor Harris and his team have now shown that the hepatitis C virus switches off AMPK so that the cell continues production of lipids and membranes, both of which are vital to its survival.

"You'd expect AMPK to be activated when a cell becomes infected by a virus, because it would sense the increase in energy required to enable the virus to replicate. In such cases, AMPK would shut down certain functions of the cell temporarily until the cell's energy is rebalanced," says Prof Harris. "We found that hepatitis C virus, because it needs lipids and membranes, causes the opposite to happen."

Building on this finding, the research team were able to examine how cells would react when treated with common drugs that stimulate AMPK. They found that in infected cells, the drugs were able to halt virus replication, enabling cells to clear the infection.

A patent has been filed on the discovery and the team will shortly embark on a small-scale clinical trial with The University of Nottingham. This will provide a greater evidence base upon which future clinical trials can be based.

Explore further: Restrictions lifted at British bird flu farm

More information: This research is published in a paper entitled Enhanced hepatitis C virus genome replication and lipid accumulation mediated by inhibition of AMP-activated protein kinase in the latest edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Statistics about Hepatitis C from the World Health Organisation: www.who.int/csr/disease/hepati… o2003/en/index1.html

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 ...

Possible hepatitis C vaccine

Sep 05, 2007

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infects up to 500,000 people in the UK alone, many of the infections going undiagnosed. It is the single biggest cause of people requiring a liver transplant in Britain. Now, in a collaborative effort ...

Recommended for you

Restrictions lifted at British bird flu farm

1 hour ago

Britain on Sunday lifted all restrictions at a duck farm in northern England after last month's outbreak of H5N8 bird flu, the same strain seen in recent cases across Europe.

Recorded Ebola deaths top 7,000

Dec 20, 2014

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has now killed more than 7,000 people, with many of the latest deaths reported in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said as United Nations Secretary-General Ban ...

Liberia holds Senate vote amid Ebola fears (Update)

Dec 20, 2014

Health workers manned polling stations across Liberia on Saturday as voters cast their ballots in a twice-delayed Senate election that has been criticized for its potential to spread the deadly Ebola disease.

Evidence-based recs issued for systemic care in psoriasis

Dec 19, 2014

(HealthDay)—For appropriately selected patients with psoriasis, combining biologics with other systemic treatments, including phototherapy, oral medications, or other biologic, may result in greater efficacy ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.