10,000 Hepatitis C patients could hold the key to better treatment

01 Feb 2011 12:12:14.677
PA 35/11

The University of Nottingham is to play a lead role in establishing a clinical database of 10,000 patients infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV).

The Medical Research Foundation, an independent registered charity established by the Medical Research Council (MRC), has donated nearly £2million to establish this new resource which will enable a UK-wide network of researchers to find new ways to tackle the deadly infection.

While there has been considerable progress in the scientific understanding of the disease in recent years, it is currently extremely difficult to effectively track the spread of HCV and to understand the biological roots of the illness.
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Patients will be recruited from clinical centres across the UK which currently provide care to HCV patients. The initiative will create HCV Research UK, a consortium of clinicians, academics and healthcare professionals, which aims to promote collaborative research into HCV infection across the UK.

Will Irving, Professor and Honorary Consultant in Virology in the Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at The University of Nottingham, will be working in partnership with Dr John McLauchlan who will lead the project at the newly-established Medical Research Council - University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research.

With around £400,000 from the MRC grant, The University of Nottingham will collate a large volume of data from thousands of questionnaires completed by patients living across the country. The project coordinator, data entry support and some research nurse support from the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit will be based within the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Centre which is run jointly by the University and the NHS.

Professor Irving said: “The funding of HCV Research UK offers a fantastic opportunity to create a national resource that will underpin all aspects of research into chronic hepatitis C infection for many years to come.  We need to have a better understanding of the factors which govern how serious the disease becomes in an individual patient in order to target therapy most appropriately.”

The lack of strategic surveillance of the disease in the UK has also made it harder for doctors to determine why some patients can develop symptoms as soon as they are infected, while others only go onto develop cirrhosis of the liver after many years. By collecting and analysing clinical samples taken from patients, the project will also help researchers examine why certain patients fail to respond to treatment.

Professor Irving has co-ordinated the Trent Cohort of Patients Infected with Hepatitis C (a multicentre collaborative effort involving hospitals and Universities in Nottingham, Sheffield, Leicester, Derby and Lincoln) since its inception in 1992. This cohort has enrolled over 3500 patients, many of whom have been part of the study for more than 10 years, and the team has published widely on the natural history of hepatitis C virus infection.

The University of Nottingham was chosen as the site of the clinical database as Professor Irving and his team have extensive experience in managing a large patient cohort, and 25 per cent of the national cohort will be derived from Trent patients. In addition, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust hosts one, of only two, of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Units (BRU) that specialises in liver disease. Thus, situating the cohort study within Nottingham enables a synergy between the NIHR and the MRC funding, from which both will benefit – HCV Research UK will have access to support and infrastructure within the BRU, whilst the translational research within the BRU will benefit from having access to HCV Research UK.

Professor Irving said: “I am delighted that a significant part of HCV Research UK will be based in Nottingham. This will build on our extensive experience in collecting and analysing data from large numbers of patients around Trent who suffer from hepatitis C virus infection. It is important that we generate a strong foundation for the study of this disease in patients within the UK, as it will continue to constitute a considerable health and economic burden for the NHS for many years to come.”

At least 250,000 people in the UK are thought to be infected with the blood-borne virus, which can cause severe liver damage in up to 20 per cent of patients. HCV is ten times easier to contract than HIV, with prisoners and drug users particularly vulnerable to infection.

Dr John McLauchlan at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research said: “With Hepatitis C rates continuing to rise and place an increasing strain on healthcare resources, it’s crucial that we attack this disease on as many fronts as possible. By creating a well-structured resource, we hope that it will stimulate both clinical and fundamental research into HCV infection in the UK and form the basis for many future studies.”

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Times as “the nearest Britain has to a truly global university”, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 39,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

More news from the University at: www.nottingham.ac.uk/news

University facts and figures at: www.nottingham.ac.uk/about/facts/factsandfigures.aspx

About the Medical Research Foundation

The Medical Research Foundation is an independent registered charity established by the Medical Research Council (MRC).  The Medical Research Foundation receives legacies and donations from the giving public. 

The aims of the Medical Research Foundation are to promote medical research anywhere in the world, and in particular, to support research training, public engagement with research and the dissemination of research results for the improvement of human health.  The Medical Research Foundation aims to support research that complements and extends that supported by the MRC.  The Medical Research Foundation’s trustees recently granted an award to Dr John MacLauchlan and colleagues to establish a national HCV resource. The name used to refer to the ‘Trust Funds administered in connection with the Medical Research Council’ charity (registration number 250696)


Story credits

More information is available from Professor Will Irving on +44 (0)115 8230752, will.irving@nottingham.ac.uk or Catherine Beveridge Senior Press Officer at the MRC on +44 (0)207 3952276, catherine.beveridge@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: lindsay.brooke@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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Published Date
Monday 9th May 2011

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