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Human, animal vaccine development goal of hepatitis E virus research
Date:3/7/2008

Blacksburg, Va.--Dr. X.J. Meng, of Blacksburg, Va., a professor of virology in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicines Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at Virginia Tech, has been awarded two research grants totaling almost $3 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the hepatitis E virus (HEV). The ultimate goal of the work is to develop a vaccine to protect people and animals from Hepatitis E.

HEV is an important human pathogen, according to Meng. The disease caused by HEV, Hepatitis E, is a major public health problem in developing countries in Asia and Africa, and in Mexico. Hepatitis E is also endemic in the United States and many other industrialized countries, according to Meng. Although the overall mortality associated with HEV infection is generally low (less than 1 percent), it can be as high as 28 percent in infected pregnant women. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis E.

The major obstacle for Hepatitis E research and vaccine development has been the lack of a practical animal model system for HEV research and the inability to propagate HEV in cell culture, explains Meng. With funding from NIH, Mengs group recently discovered two HEV-related animal viruses in the United States: swine hepatitis E virus (swine HEV) from pigs, and avian hepatitis E virus (avian HEV) from chickens. It has since been demonstrated that swine HEV can cross species barriers and infect humans, and that human HEV can infect pigs. Hepatitis E is now regarded as a zoonotic disease.

With the discoveries of the two new animal viruses, Mengs group quickly developed a pig model and a chicken model to study the hepatitis E virus. Prior to Mengs discoveries of the two animal hepatitis E viruses, scientists were forced to use non-human primates in order to study the disease. Conducting HEV research with primates at one of the NIH regional primate centers is expensive and contains s
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Contact: Jeff Douglas
jdouglas@vt.edu
540-231-7911
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert

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