Hepatitis B (HCB) and hepatitis C (HCV) infections affect more than 10 percent of the world population. They are the most common cause of liver disease including liver cancer—the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Current treatments for both viruses do not always work. While an effective vaccine for HBV is available, there is not one for HCV. In order to develop effective vaccines and better treatment approaches, we must understand (1) how molecules, cells, and genes are altered over time in an infected person; (2) how the virus interacts with the host; and (3) how the immune system is affected by the virus. My lab focuses on these topics and takes three approaches to our study of HCV infection and the mechanisms that cause the disease.
Our first approach is to understand how interefons (proteins that are released in response to viruses), ribavirin (an anti-viral drug used with interefons to treat HCV infection), and the new class of direct-acting antivirals in HCV therapy work. We explore the biological reasons that explain why some patients do not respond to treatment. Our second approach is to apply molecular, biochemical, and functional genomic tools to identify and characterize interactions between the virus, viral gene products, and the host. Using our third approach, we generate new tools for developing and evaluating vaccines and antivirals by building and improving on currently available models.