It is the single biggest cause of people requiring a liver transplant in Britain. The researchers were speaking at the Society for General Microbiology's 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs Sept. 3-6, 2007.
Hepatitis treatment is expensive and only successful in half of patients. Untreated or unresponsive patients can go on to develop cirrhosis of the liver, with life affecting consequences or the need for a transplant.
In a collaborative effort with groups across Europe and the USA, scientists from Nottingham University have recently identified antibodies that can successfully prevent infection with many diverse strains of Hepatitis C virus in laboratory models.
"The clinical potential of this work cannot be overstated. Historically, successful vaccines against viruses have required the production of antibodies, and this is likely to be the case for Hepatitis C virus", says Dr Alexander Tarr from the Virus Research Group at the University of Nottingham.
"Identifying regions of the virus that are able to induce broadly reactive neutralising antibodies is a significant milestone in the development of a HCV vaccine, which will have distinct healthcare benefits for hepatitis sufferers, and could also help us design vaccines for other chronic viral diseases such as HIV".
Hepatitis C virus infects 180 million people worldwide. Infection with the virus can lead to liver cancer, and is the most common reason for liver transplantation in both the UK and the USA.
"We are also currently exploring the possibility of improving liver transplantation success rates by passively infusing people with these antibodies" says Dr Tarr.
"We are also using the information gained by identifying and characterising the antibody responses to Hepatitis C virus to design new ways of making vaccine candidates. If the antibodies we have discovered can be reproduced by vaccination, control of the disease might be possible".