SF med center to use gene therapy

January 13, 2008 11:23:50 AM PST
California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco announced this week that it has reportedly become the first medical research institute to use a gene-silencing therapy to treat hepatitis B.

California Pacific teamed up with Pennsylvania-based Nucleonics Inc., along with other investigators, to test a method of helping people suffering from the hepatitis B virus, which is the second leading cause of cancer worldwide.

"This is an exciting time, and a potentially important new way of helping people battle what can be a deadly disease," said Robert Gish, medical director of the Liver Disease Management & Transplant Program at California Pacific Medical Center.

When hepatitis B infects a liver cell it creates a strand of genetic material called RNA and then uses that material to turn the cell into a mini hepatitis B factor, essentially churning out new copies of the virus, which spread throughout the liver.

This new therapy prevents the virus from multiplying by effectively paralyzing it and making it unable to create infectious virus particles.

An estimated 2 million Americans are chronically infected with hepatitis B, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most people who have chronic hepatitis B infections undergo life-long therapy to keep the virus at bay. If left unchecked, it can cause cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure and even death in one out of four people infected with the virus.