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New approach, old drug show promise against hepatitis C, Stanford research shows
Date:8/31/2008

STANFORD, Calif. - The fight against the liver disease hepatitis C has been at something of an impasse for years, with more than 150 million people currently infected, and traditional antiviral treatments causing nasty side effects and often falling short of a cure. Using a novel technique, medical and engineering researchers at Stanford University have discovered a vulnerable step in the virus' reproduction process that in lab testing could be effectively targeted with an obsolete antihistamine.

The new research will be published in the Aug. 31 online version of Nature Biotechnology.

The advance involves two new discoveries. One is that a protein called NS4B is instrumental in binding some of the genetic material, or RNA, and allowing the hepatitis C virus to replicate. The other is that the former anti-itching drug clemizole hydrochloride could hinder that protein, resulting in a tenfold decrease in virus replication with no apparent harm to infected liver-like cells. Because the drug has already been used by people, it is eligible for human testing.

"We're excited about this and we're actively moving forward toward clinical trials," said virology expert Jeffrey Glenn, MD, PhD, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology. Glenn is one of two senior authors of the paper. The lead authors are postdoctoral scholars Shirit Einav, MD, in medicine, and Doron Gerber, PhD, in bioengineering.

One of the team's key discoveries used coin-sized microfluidic chips that shrink tabletop biological experiments down to the tiny scale of nanoliters. The paper marks the first time that microfluidic technology has been used to discover a specific drug, said Stephen Quake, PhD, professor of bioengineering and the other senior author of the paper. In fact, the small team was able to screen more than 1,200 drug candidates and find clemizole in just two weeks, Gerber added.

"That's just an example of the power of these
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Contact: David Orenstein
davidjo@stanford.edu
650-736-2245
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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