Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Researchers launch hepatitis research network in Africa

MAYWOOD, Il. – Although it does not receive as much attention as AIDS, hepatitis has long been one of Africa’s most serious health problems.

To study how to better prevent and control hepatitis, physicians and researchers from Africa, the United States and Europe recently launched the Africa Collaborative Hepatitis Network, known as HepNet.

The initiative is led by Jennifer E. Layden, MD, PhD, and colleagues from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

HepNet is an outgrowth of a study Dr. Layden and colleagues are conducting in Africa. The researchers hope to estimate the prevalence of Hepatitis C in Ghana and Nigeria; determine the major ways Hepatitis C is transmitted; and identify the genetic factors in patients and in the virus that influence outcomes.

An estimated 12 percent to 15 percent of the population of Africa has chronic infection of Hepatitis B, and 3 percent to 6 percent have Hepatitis C. In the United States, by comparison, about 2 percent of the population has Hepatitis C and less than 1 percent has Hepatitis B. In Gambia, 62 percent of all cancers are liver cancer, which is almost always due to the hepatitis virus.

Hepatitis C has been infecting people in Africa for the last 500 to 1,000 years. But hepatitis often receives less attention from public health officials and the general public than other serious infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, Dr. Layden said.

Dr. Layden and colleagues from Loyola’s Public Health Sciences Department organized the inaugural HepNet meeting Aug. 12-13 in Kumasi, Ghana. Several studies already are being organized.

The inaugural meeting included physicians and scientists from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Cambridge. In addition to Dr. Layden, representatives from Loyola’s Department of Public Health Sciences and Department of Medicine included Amy Luke, PhD; Lara Dugas, PhD;  Nallely Mora, MD; Steven Scaglione, MD; and Thomas Layden, MD.

HepNet will provide an infrastructure for researchers to communicate with one another, share resources, find other investigators, standardize studies and publicize findings, etc. The multidisciplinary network will include public health specialists, physicians, geneticists and virologists.

Researchers and scientists from the United States and Europe will collaborate closely with local physicians and public health officials. Both sides will benefit. Africa will get added resources to fight hepatitis. Researchers, in turn, will gain a better understanding of the host-virus biology, which could lead to better treatments and new vaccines, Dr. Layden said.

“HepNet is facilitating a functioning group of dedicated investigators who are working to understand and control hepatitis,” Dr. Layden said.
Dr. Layden is an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. She is an assistant professor in the Departments of Medicine and Public Health Sciences of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

About Loyola University Health System

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), located on a 61-acre campus in Maywood, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital (GMH), on a 36-acre campus in Melrose Park, and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. At the heart of LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital that houses the Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, a burn center, a children's hospital, Loyola Outpatient Center, and Loyola Oral Health Center. The campus also is home to Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. The GMH campus includes a 254-licensed-bed community hospital, a Professional Office Building with 150 private practice clinics, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation. It serves people and communities in 22 states from coast to coast with 93 hospitals, and 120 continuing care locations — including home care, hospice, PACE and senior living facilities — that provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually.