In a poetic turn of virology, the scientist who discovered hepatitis C in 1989 has now also discovered a vaccine that will hopefully cure the now-incurable disease.
Not only is it poetic, it's an accomplishment that many thought was impossible. Because hepatitis C is more virulent than HIV, no one was confident a vaccine against all the various strains around the world could be developed. But Michael Houghton, the University of Alberta researcher who announced his work today at the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Summit in Vancouver, says his vaccine works against every known strain of the virus.
It could still be up to seven years before the vaccine goes through the necessary phases of clinical trials and receives FDA approval, but it's amazing news for people who thought they'd be living with hepatitis C for the rest of their lives. It also remains to be seen how much impact the vaccine will have in people who already have the disease—it will be most effective as a preventive against acquiring the disease. Hundreds of thousands of people get hepatitis C every year, and 20 to 30 per cent of them develop liver disease.