Gene Predicts Hepatitis Treatment Success

AP, August 16, 2009

Scientists say they’ve found a big reason why treatment for chronic hepatitis C infection works better for white patients than for African-Americans. It’s a tiny variation in a gene.

People with a certain gene variant are far more likely to respond to treatment, and that variant is more common in people with European ancestry than African-Americans, researchers report.

In fact, that probably explains about half the racial disparity in treatment response, the scientists estimate in a study published online Sunday by the journal Nature.

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African-Americans who had the gene variant showed a better response rate than whites who didn’t have it, indicating that the gene is a better predictor than ethnicity, the researchers said.

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An estimated 170 million people around the world and perhaps 3.2 million people in the United States alone have a chronic hepatitis C infection. That puts them at risk for developing liver cirrhosis and cancer. The virus is spread by contact with infected blood, such as from using inadequately sterilized needles.

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