Human liver cells harbouring the hepatitis C virus can be selectively targeted and destroyed by a new gene therapy approach, according to new research.



The key is a genetically-engineered “suicide” gene, delivered aboard a harmless virus, which is triggered only when it enters a hepatitis-infected cell.



The two current treatments for the debilitating liver disease – alpha interferon and ribavarin – can reduce the level of infection, say researchers, but the virus usually comes back.



The new gene therapy approach could one day “offer the potential of a total cure” for many people, says virologist Christopher Richardson, at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, Canada, and one of the research team. It might also help tackle other viruses, such as HIV.

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