Scientists and researchers in the UK have taken a step closer to developing a new vaccine that protects against the hepatitis C virus.
The team from Oxford University say clinical trials of the vaccine have shown “promising” results after it was tested on 41 people.
According to the researchers, the vaccine emulated similar resistance responses to hepatitis C that the few people in the world with a natural immunity to the virus display.
However, the team have warned that more research and investigation into the vaccine is needed and have estimated that this could take years.
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The vaccine has been based on the common cold virus, which had genetic strands of the hepatitis C virus added to it.
It is hoped that the body will then recognise the hepatitis C virus as an intruder and the immune system will be encouraged to attack it.
The researchers are confident that the vaccine will provide long-lasting protection, of at least 12 months if not longer, against the virus which can go undetected in the body for years.
Hepatitis C is incredibly hard to spot because it is constantly changing and taking on new disguises, which is why natural immune systems have such trouble in fighting the virus.
There are also six different strains of the illness and often it has little or no symptoms.
It is estimated that 170 million people could be infected with hepatitis C across the world, which, like the HIV/AIDS virus, is spread blood-to-blood.
The virus is responsible for causing extensive liver damage and even liver cancer. It has also been linked to being a cause of early death.
As of yet, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C and current treatments only come with an approximate 50 percent success rate.
Commenting on the results of the vaccine’s trial, one of the researchers, Professor Paul Klenerman, said: “We've found that it's possible to prime large cellular immune responses against hepatitis C that last for at least a year.
“The immune responses we've seen are exciting and we are beginning the next stage of trials.”
He added: “While we are hopeful, it could be a long road to any vaccine that protects people against hepatitis C.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, Charles Gore, said: “This is very promising research.
“There has been rapid development in drugs to treat hepatitis C but vaccine development has lagged behind. Yet, if we only treat existing infections, we will always be behind the curve.
“We badly need to improve prevention and this is an excellent step in that direction,” he added.
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