October 28, 2010

Gene Variants Affect Hepatitis C Treatment, But Link Is Elusive

Science 29 October 2010:
Vol. 330. no. 6004, p. 579
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6004.579

Jessica Wapner*

A year ago, three groups independently found that patients with a particular variant of a gene called IL28B tend to fare better than others in battling hepatitis C virus (HCV). The finding promised new insights into the complex interplay between the immune system and HCV, which is estimated to infect 4 million people in the United States and 170 million worldwide. A diagnostic test for the IL28B variants recently became available. It is helping to guide decisions on whether, and when, patients begin treatment with the current therapy, a combination of pegylated interferon- and the antiviral drug ribavirin. And there are hints that the IL28B polymorphisms may play a similar role in responses to treatment with two new drugs that are expected to be approved early in 2011. So far, however, research to determine why different versions of the gene provide different levels of protection against HCV and different responses to treatment has yet to yield any answers.

* Jessica Wapner is a science writer in New York City.

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