Hepatitis is a viral disease which causes inflammation of the liver, resulting in severe scarring of the organ and even cancer. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 250 million people worldwide are suffering from hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B can be transmitted through direct contact with blood, semen and saliva of an infected person. It is an incurable disease which can be life-threatening if not treated early.
In recent studies, scientists have found some new ways to deal with hepatitis B.
Deactivation of hepatitis B virus
Scientists from the University of Delaware and Indiana University used computer simulations to investigate the effects of a mutation (change in the genetic structure) on the structure of hepatitis B virus. The genetic material of the virus is contained within an outer structure called a capsid.
Capsid looks like a spiky ball due to the presence of 120 protein dimers attached to it, which are T-shaped molecular structures, that give the spiky appearance. Capsid helps the virus enter and infect the human cells.
Scientists found that if this structure of the virus is disrupted or if there is a change in the shape of the protein spikes, the virus would not be able to produce infectious copies of itself.
Researchers found that when the mutation occurs in the spike region of the protein, it also changes the structure of the protein which helps in making the entire capsid. Scientists believe that the capsid can be an important target in developing drugs against the incurable hepatitis B.
Natural controllers against Hepatitis B
No specific treatment has been developed for hepatitis B. However, in recent research published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, scientists found that there are some rare patients who develop antibodies against the virus that can be found in the blood. These patients are called natural controllers as these antibodies provide protection against the hepatitis B disease, as a vaccine would.
To prove this concept, the scientists produced and identified 100 human monoclonal antibodies against the Hepatitis B virus antigens which were derived from the blood of people who were vaccinated and the individuals who got cured of chronic hepatitis B.
These antibodies not only neutralise the viral infection but also reduced viremia when tested on mice. Viremia is a term used to determine the presence of the virus in the bloodstream.
The scientists believe that these neutralising antibodies from the natural controllers could be used in controlling hepatitis B in chronically ill patients.
For more information, read our article on Hepatitis B.
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