Discoveries hold promise for the treatment of millions

October 22, 2012

A University of Colorado Boulder-led team has discovered two prime targets of the Hepatitis B virus in liver cells, findings that could lead to treatment of liver disease in some of the 400 million people worldwide currently infected with the virus.

CU-Boulder Molecular, Cellular and Developmental (MCD) Biology Professor Ding Xue, who led the studies, said scientists have been looking for cellular targets of the Hepatitis B virus, or HBV, for more than three decades. Infections from HBV promote hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer and can be transmitted through blood and bodily fluids, unprotected sex, unsterile needles and from infected mother to offspring during birth.

Xue said scientists have known for some time that HBV encodes a pathogenic, tumor-promoting protein known as HBx, but how it works has remained largely unknown. In two new studies, Xue and his colleagues showed that the “host targets” of HBx in human cells are two small cell proteins known as Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL, both of which are well-known cell death inhibitors but which have not previously been implicated in HBV infection.

The World Health Organization estimated in July that about 600,000 people die annually from acute or chronic HBV infection, which is most predominant in Asia and Africa.

Xue said there currently is no effective treatment for chronic HBV carriers, although some people with chronic HBV are treated with interferon and anti-viral drugs. But such treatments are either unavailable or too expensive in developing countries where most of the HBV infections are occurring.  “That’s why these new findings could have profound clinical and pharmaceutical implications for the treatment of HBV patients,” he said.

For more information on HBV visit http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs204/en/

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