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Infectious Disease: Hepatitis C
June 27, 2016

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a global health concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 130 to 150 million people globally have chronic hepatitis C infection. A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop liver cirrhosis or liver cancer with approximately 500,000 people dying each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases.

Learn more about hepatitis C and find support at AIDS Saskatoon.

In 2011, an estimated 0.6% to 0.7% (i.e. 220,697 to 245,987 Canadians) of the total Canadian population was living with chronic hepatitis C, and roughly 44% of them were unaware of their status (i.e. 97,107 to 108,234 Canadians).

“Saskatchewan has a high incidence of HCV infection relative to the Canadian average,” says Dr. Yalena Amador Cañizares, postdoctoral fellow in the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. “These high rates make HCV infection a priority health issue that affects Saskatchewan residents.”

Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus and the most common modes of infection are through unsafe injection practices; inadequate sterilization of medical equipment; and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products. Presently, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Thus, identification of novel targets for development of antiviral drugs is an ongoing goal of HCV research.

Born and raised in Cuba, Dr. Amador Cañizares completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Havana before starting her postdoctoral training under the supervision of Dr. Joyce Wilson at the University of Saskatchewan. In 2014, Dr. Amador Cañizares received a Postdoctoral Fellowship Grant from SHRF to explore the mechanism by which miR-122, a cellular molecule, promotes HCV replication, and identify novel antiviral targets.

“In recent years, the standard of care has changed rapidly and promising new antiviral drugs are being developed to treat the most common strain of the virus,” says Dr. Amador Cañizares. “However, the ability of HCV to rapidly evolve in the setting of drug pressure and resistance is a possible threat to the success of these new therapies in the long term.”

Additionally, due to the high cost of these therapies they are not being provided to all infected patients, and it is not something foreseeable in the near future. There is also a need for the development of alternative treatment options for patients with less common strains of the virus and patients with a condition or factor that could harm their health if given the current therapies.

The research findings will hopefully unravel the secrets behind the complexities of HCV infection and provide the insight required to develop new ways to inhibit the virus and treat HCV infected patients.

Read more stories of health research vital to Saskatchewan health in Research for Health.

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