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Study: HCV could aid the acceptance of a new liver after transplant

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) could aid the acceptance of a new liver according to research.

Scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen and the Technische Universitat Munchen have now discovered the long-term stimulation of the immune system by the virus actually increases the probability of the new organ being accepted by the body.

Over 150 million people throughout the world suffer from chronic infection with HCV, which causes massive damage to the liver. Advanced liver diseases often necessitate liver transplants.

In the new clinical study 34 hepatitis C patients at the liver unit of the University Hospital Clínic de Barcelona who had received new livers were studied.

The researchers had two objectives:

First, they wanted to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that enable the body's own immune system to tolerate the new organ despite the HCV infection.

Second, they were looking for factors that could act as biomarkers for tolerance in the patients.

Markers for tolerance

During the study, the patients stopped taking the immunosuppressants. They were observed for twelve months to see which of them could also tolerate the new organ without the drugs and which of them did not. The scientists took liver and blood samples from the patients prior to and after the cessation of the drugs.

The researchers found a certain group of genes was very active only in the livers of tolerant patients. The genes in question belonged to the type I interferon system, which targets viruses like HCV as part of the innate immune system.

Researcher Ulrike Protzer provides a possible explanation for this: "When the interferon system is constantly activated as is the case in some chronically-infected patients, it downregulates other immune reactions in order to protect the body. This state could act like a natural immunosuppressant and reduce the rejection of the organ."

More information about this research can be found here: Medical News Today