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Genetic Discovery May Improve Hepatitis C Treatment

Finding will help predict patient response to therapy, researchers say

MONDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- The first biomarker that predicts a patient's response to hepatitis C treatments has been identified by U.S. researchers.

The new marker is a single letter change -- a C instead of a T -- in a segment of DNA near the IL28B gene, according to the Duke University Medical Center team. They found it by studying the DNA of 1,671 people taking part in a study of hepatitis C treatments.

Not only does this biomarker predict who is most likely to respond to treatment and who isn't, it may solve the long-standing question of why responses to hepatitis C treatments vary so widely among racial and ethnic groups.

"For geneticists, understanding response to treatment for hepatitis C infection has been almost like a Holy Grail," study senior author David Goldstein, director of the Center for Human Genome Variation at Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, said in a university news release.

"The side effects of hepatitis treatment can be brutal, and about half the time, the treatment fails to eradicate the virus. This discovery enables us to give patients valuable information that will help them and their doctors decide what is best for them. This is what personalized medicine is all about," Goldstein said.

The study appeared online Aug. 16 in the journal Nature.

Hepatitis C, one of the most common infections in the world, affects about 170 million people. Treatment typically involves 48 weeks of interferon plus the antiviral drug ribavirin. Black patients are less likely to respond to treatment than white patients, while East Asian patients seem to have the best response.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about hepatitis C.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Duke University Medical Center, news release, Aug. 16, 2009

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