Washington: In what may pave the way for an effective vaccine and treatment against the potentially fatal hepatitis C infection, scientists claim to have discovered two "Achilles' heels" within the virus.
   
Hepatitis C virus infection is a global pandemic with more than 120 million people infected worldwide.
   
Now, an international team, led by University of New South Wales, studied individuals at high risk of hepatitis C (HCV) infection, including a number identified within a few weeks of onset of the infection.

Using a new technique called next generation deep sequencing and sophisticated computer analytics the team was able to identify the "founder" virus responsible for initial infection and then track changes within the virus as it was targeted by the immune system.
   
"We discovered that hepatitis C has not one but two 'Achilles' heels' that provide opportunities for vaccine development.”

“If we can help the immune system to attack the virus at these weak points early on, then we could eliminate the infection in the body completely," said team member Dr Fabio Luciani.

Another team member Dr Rowena Bull said the discovery of the weakest links meant vaccine researchers could now focus their attentions on the most likely avenues for success.
   
"The first weak point was identified at transmission, when the virus has to survive the transfer from one individual to another.”
   
"The second weakness, and surprise finding, was the significant drop in the diversity of the viral variants in each individual studied, occurring about three months after transmission, around the time where the immune system is starting to combat the virus. A lower number of variants means the virus is easier to target," she said.

(Agencies)