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NIH Grants $3 Million to Researchers Developing Hepatitis B Treatments

The National Institutes of Health have granted $3 million to researchers at the University of Missouri Bond Life Sciences Center to study hepatitis B and develop new, effective treatment options.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that in the US alone, 19,200 people are infected by hepatitis B, an infection that attacks the liver, and if left untreated, can result in severe health complications. However, treatment options for hepatitis B are actually very limited in that there is only one class of drugs currently available to combat the infection. Luckily, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) wish to remedy the situation by issuing a $3 million grant to an investigator at the University of Missouri Bond Life Sciences Center (BLSC), which would allow him to utilize existing research to develop new, effective treatment options to assist in the fight against hepatitis B.

This investigator, Stefan Sarafianos, PhD, is a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, and the Chancellor’s Chair of Excellence in molecular virology in the University of Missouri School of Medicine. In an official press release issued by the University of Missouri, he said “Hepatitis B truly is a global, public health issue. With more than 240 million people chronically infected, it is an epidemic of epic proportions. We are working to develop therapeutic strategies that not only suppress the virus, but also have the potential to eradicate hepatitis B.”

This grant comes on the heels of a warning that had been issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerning the risk of reactivating hepatitis B in patients who were receiving direct-acting antivirals to treat hepatitis C infections. When something like this happens, cases of hepatitis B may flare up again, making new treatment options that would suppress hepatitis B infections paramount.

Nuceloside analogs are drugs used to treat HIV, ones that were designed to effectively target replication of the virus and have also been used in the fight against hepatitis B. Keeping this in mind, the researchers plan to build off of this knowledge and develop a drug that will target the viral capsid of the “inner protective shell that protects the viruses’ genetic material,” according to the press release. By targeting this capsid, researchers may be able to eradicate hepatitis B altogether.

According to Dr. Sarafianos, “Research shows that viral DNA is housed inside the viral capsid. We work on drugs that would destabilize the viral capsid and could help eradicate the virus. We truly are grateful to the NIH for their continuing support of our efforts.”

With funding from the NIH and a skilled team consisting of both scientists and students, Dr. Sarafianos and the University of Missouri School of Medicine aim to essentially change the world of medicine through their research. Commenting on Dr. Sarafianos’ team’s achievement, Patrick Delafontaine, MD, the Hugh E. and Sarah D. Stephenson dean at the School of Medicine said, “The diverse team of scientists and students showcases the school’s commitment to research and teaching the next generation of scientists. We’re proud to be leading the effort and look forward to results that will benefit the world.”

This novel research is not the only one of it’s kind carried out in these facilities. Through undergraduate and graduate research, the Bond Life Sciences Center at the University of Missouri’s primary aim is to tackle problems in both human and animal health as well as addressing environmental issues, through innovation, teamwork, and collaboration.

The director of the MU Bond Life Sciences Center, Jack Schultz, PhD, commented, “The innovative culture at the Bond Life Sciences Center enables our investigators from across the campus, state, nation, and the world to solve the health problems affecting global citizens. The BLSC encourages the development of the research strengths of our scientists, undergraduate and graduate students. We’re excited about this new research and its implications.”