East Tennessee State University just received a $1.4 million grant to find out two things: why do people with Hepatitis C develop a chronic infection, and why are 50 percent of the ones who have it not compatible with the current treatment?
Your body will fight off most viral infections; however, according to the Veterans' Affairs Medical Center and ETSU one infection may break your immune system, preventing your body from fighting it off at all.
"We believe the reason you don't get over it is that the virus is doing something to our immune system that's preventing the immune system from clearing the virus properly," said Dr. Jonathan Moorman.
The virus he's talking about is Hepatitis C. "Hepatitis C is actually more common than many people think," said Dr. Moorman.
So common that Dr. John Yao tells us that four million people in the United States have it. "Four million in the U.S., but in the whole world it's almost 200 million. So it's really a big problem worldwide," said Dr. Yao.
And most aren't aware they have it. "It may not be for another 15 or 20 years when they develop significant liver disease that they know that they even have chronic Hepatitis C," said Dr. Moorman
We learned that the odd thing about this virus is that 15 percent of people can get rid of the infection on their own. "Those patients are a lot harder to find and we do use those as part of our study, but we really focus on the people who have a chronic infection," said Dr. Moorman.
Dr. Yao told us that they take samples of blood from people who are chronically infected. They then freeze the blood until the treatment of patient is done.
"When we treat this patient with chronic infection only 50 percent can be treatable, or cured," said Dr. Yao.
Another sample is then taken and they compare the before and after to see what makes a patient become chronic or unresponsive.
Dr. Moorman and Dr. Yao have been working on this together for the last ten years and wont stop until they figure it out. "Our research is focused on basic mechanisms because ultimately we'd like to be able to prevent this, and we can't do that without a vaccine," said Dr. Moorman.
We also learned that one in every five people will actually develop cirrhosis of the liver because of Hepatitis C. The only cure is a liver transplant.
Dr. Mooreman and Dr. Yao have been working on this project together for 10 years.