Behavioural, virological and immunological factors influencing hepatitis C virus infection in injecting drug users [ 2005 - 2007 ]

Also known as: Factors influencing hepatitis C virus infection in injecting drug users

Research Grant

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Researchers: Prof Margaret Hellard (Principal investigator) ,  A/Pr Mandvi Bharadwaj Dr Campbell Aitken Prof Eric Gowans Prof John Crofts
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Brief description The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major public health problem affecting over 170 million people worldwide. In Australia an estimated 157,000 people have HCV and are at risk of serious disease, and 16,000 new infections occur each year. Treating HCV-related disease is expensive, and this healthcare burden is projected to grow significantly in coming years. Almost all new HCV infections in Australia occur among injecting drug users (IDUs), and despite our world-leading prevention programs, the virus is spreading. Consensus is emerging that the best hope for control of HCV and related disease lies in a vaccine; our research will lay much of the groundwork for its development. The applicants' research to date shows that IDUs are being infected with HCV more frequently than previously assumed, that many carry multiple strains, and that dominant strains vary rapidly in individuals over time. These results reinforce the view that our prevention methods will not reduce infection rates and that current anti-viral treatments are not the solution. Nevertheless, we also found that some IDUs remain free of HCV infection despite risky behaviour with infected associates; intensive study of the immune functioning of these persistently non-infected individuals holds promise for vaccine development. In our proposed research, a collaboration of leading Australian epidemiologists, virologists and immunologists, we will recruit 210 young IDUs and follow them regularly for two years. Recruits will describe their social networks and nominate IDUs with whom they inject, provide blood samples and be interviewed about their behaviour at 3-month intervals. Individuals with recent and resolved HCV infection, change of dominant strain and lack of infection despite risky behaviour will be identified and their blood analysed for genetic factors that may be linked to immune protection. The outcomes will be crucial to the development and trialling of a vaccine against HCV.

Funding Amount $AUD 963,437.50

Funding Scheme NHMRC Project Grants

Notes Standard Project Grant

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