And so, hepatitis B treatment usually spans decades, with costs of $400 to $600 a month, if patients can afford the medication. Expensive and beyond the means of many, some patients do not receive any treatment at all. As a compromise measure, some patients opt to take medication for a short time, staving off the damage the illness will cause for a few years.
A 19-Year Puzzle
Hepatitis B virus puts up a protracted fight in the lab, as well. For 19 years, Tavis has worked on a particular part of the virus's genetic puzzle, and until recently he had been, in his words, failing miserably.
The problem was a common one in the laboratory. Until scientists can measure a puzzle piece, they can't study it. And, until researchers have some small success, they don't know if they're on the right track or headed down a dead end.
This was the case for the particular enzyme Tavis believed held answers. Stumped, he returned to the puzzle again and again over the years.
"Until you see that first glimmer, all negatives look the same," Tavis said. "One of the biggest skills in this job is knowing when to give up. It's not obvious when you are wasting time and when you are giving up too early."
In Tavis's case, his instinct served him well, and two years ago, he saw the first glimmer of the answer he was searching for.
A Virus's Tactics
"Viruses are genomic suitcases," Tavis said. "They have many tactics for invading and taking over our cells, using their own DNA as the blueprints."
In the case of hepatitis B virus, and, -- in what turned out to be a lucky break, HIV, as well -- the virus replicates by reverse transcription. In this process, viral DNA is converted to RNA and then converted back to DNA by two viral enzymes, both of which are vital to the virus's replication.
The first of these enzymes, a DNA polymerase, has been well studied in the lab. The fi
|Contact: Carrie Bebermeyer|
Saint Louis University