I was having a virus discussion with a surgeon recently:
Me– People think to do HIV-1 research you have to gown up in those crazy suits and do all this insane safety stuff, really, the only thing I do ‘really’ different is I wear *two* pairs of gloves, lol!
Her– I always double glove too, but its not the HIV-1 Im most worried about. Its Hepatitis C.
HIV-1 researchers, surgeons, people at high risk of accidental exposure to HIV-1– we always have antiretrovirals within 5 feet of us, just in case. Get stuck with a needle, take the pills NOW, and you can stop the infection from getting a foothold. Worst comes to worst, there are lots of antiretrovial options available in the US now.
Hepatitis C is a different story. Theres not a whole hell of a lot physicians can do for you. *Maybe* you will get better. Or maybe you will be one of the millions of people who get liver cancer/cirrhosis and get put on the liver transplant list… which still wont ‘cure’ you. 10-20K people die from HCV complications in the US every year.
Now, we do have drugs to treat HCV. By ‘drugs’, I mean, ‘two drugs’. Interferon and ribavirin, and they do help… some people (its complicated). Some people cant finish the treatment cycle because it makes them go crazy.
So any potential new therapy is really good news. This particular new treatment also has some pretty sweet side-effects:
Hepatitis C, like all viruses, has to hijack your cells to produce baby viruses. This makes them hard to treat– you cant mess up a viruses life cycle without messing up a normal cellular process.
Scientists noticed a host cell microRNA, miR-122, was super up-regulated in HCV infected cells. Apparently, HCV needs miR-122 in order to reproduce. So, if we could ‘mess up’ miR-122, we could mess up HCV infection.
Scientists worked out this neat trick to get a strand of DNA complementary to miR-122 into cells (they call it SPC3649, doesnt matter). This strand smushes itself up to the miR-122, and the whole thing gets degraded, thus lowers cellular levels of miR-122. They put this mix on cells in tissue culture, and YAY! They knocked down production of hepatitis C viruses!
Of course, ‘curing’ HCV in tissue culture doesnt mean much, so these scientists then tested their treatment in mice. It worked!
Of course, ‘curing’ HCV in mice doesnt mean much, so these scientists then tested their treatment in a non-human primate, African Green Monkeys. It worked!
Of course, ‘curing’ HCV in AGM doent mean much, as the only other primate that gets the same hepatitis C pathology as humans is chimpanzees. So in this paper, these scientists tested their treatment in chimpanzees.
It worked!… at the highest doses. Aaaand it doesnt look like HCV was evolving resistance to the treatment (its an RNA virus guys, QUASISPECIES!)!
And the chimps appeared to be pretty much fine. No obvious, crazy, SPC3649 abnormalities… except for one thing.
I mean, miR-122 isnt hanging out in liver cells just for the hell of it. It has a function, and this treatment interferes with miR-122s normal function. Know what the side-effect of SPC3649 is? 25-54% lowered cholesterol levels. BAD cholesterol levels.
Considering the shit we have to deal with with antiretrovirals, this is a pretty damn convenient side-effect!