Track 5: Protein Structure of the Hepatitis C Virus
A long-needed structural data on HCV lays the way for logical vaccine development by virology researchers against this very challenging target by placing a multitude of prior observations into a structural perspective. Two million Americans are estimated to be among the 60 million persons worldwide who have chronic HCV infections. A "silent" infection caused by the virus usually persists for decades before liver damage is severe enough to cause symptoms. The virus affects liver cells. It is a major contributor to primary liver cancer, chronic liver disease, and liver transplants. Although the virus's origins are unknown, it is believed to have appeared at least a few hundred years ago and spread internationally, particularly through blood transfusions, in the second half of the 20th century.
Although the virus was mostly eradicated from blood banks following its original detection in 1989, it still spreads primarily through intravenous drug users exchanging needles in industrialized countries and through the use of sterile medical equipment in impoverished nations. The most popular HCV antiviral medications are efficient but considerably too pricey for widespread use. A successful vaccination may someday make HCV no longer a problem for public health. But no such vaccine has ever been created, in large part due to the extraordinarily challenging nature of understanding the HCV envelope protein complex, which is made up of the viral proteins E1 and E2.