CAMBRIDGE, MA -- A new technique for studying the lifecycle of the hepatitis B virus could help researchers develop a cure for the disease.
In a paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sangeeta Bhatia of MIT and Charles Rice of Rockefeller University describe using microfabricated cell cultures to sustain hepatitis B virus in human liver cells, allowing them to study immune responses and drug treatments.
Around 400 million people worldwide are infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV); of those, one-third will go on to develop life-threatening complications, such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Although there is an effective HBV vaccine, only around 50 percent of people in some countries where the disease is endemic are vaccinated. A complete cure for the disease is very rare, once someone has been chronically infected.
"Once a liver cell is infected, the viral genome persists inside the nucleus, and that can reactivate later," says Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "So although we have a vaccine, it's important to find a way to study this persistent form of the virus to try to identify treatments that could efficiently clear it."
To develop a treatment for HBV, researchers need to be able to study infected liver cells, known as hepatocytes, so they can understand how the virus interacts with them.
But while researchers have previously been able to infect cultures of human hepatocytes with HBV, the cells' limited lifespan has made it difficult to study the virus, says Bhatia, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.
"That's because the hepatocyte the main cell in the liver is unsta
|Contact: Sarah McDonnell|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology