Saturday, May 19, 2012

RI, Australia work on hepatitis research

RI, Australia work on hepatitis research

Elly Burhaini Faizal, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sat, 05/19/2012 10:51 AM

The Eijkman Institute and the University of Sydney are trying to tackle the alarming number of hepatitis infections in the Asia-Pacific region.

Sangkot Marzuki, head of the Eijkman Institute, said that hepatitis C was one of the research topics to be examined during the collaborative work between the institute and its Australian partner.

“We have worked in many areas of research. We will further discuss possible collaborative research on particular issues such as microbe ecology, nutrition and communities, the human genome, dengue fever and hepatitis,” Sangkot said.

He also said scientists would explore the connection between hepatitis C and diabetes, as well as with lipid metabolism and excessive increases of fat in the liver, deemed as a critical link that they must know to develop a cure for hepatitis C.

Fellow scientist David Handojo Mulyono said unhealthy lifestyles may be responsible for the growing rate of hepatitis C infections, one of major causes of severe illnesses.

The molecular biology scientist said that hepatitis C posed another threat for the country that was still overwhelmed by the high number of hepatitis B infections.

Citing the institute’s latest study on the virus, he said that the prevalence of hepatitis C in Java was higher than outside of Java.

“It is actually in line with, perhaps, modernity, as we found that the infections mostly occur in big cities, especially among people who share injecting needles,” David said during a discussion with scientists from the Australian university earlier this week.

Currently, hepatitis viruses from the A to E genotypes affect approximately 500 million people around the world. This is 10 times higher than HIV/AIDS.

Of all the genotypes, hepatitis B and C appear to be the major causes of severe illnesses.

Of the 7 billion-strong world population, about 2 billion have been infected with hepatitis B, with more than 360 million chronic illnesses. Between 500,000 and 700,000 deaths occur annually due to hepatitis B-related diseases.

“It is important to note that 75 percent of these chronic infections are found in the Asia-Pacific, the region where Indonesia and Australia are located,” David said.

According to the 2010 Basic Health Research (Riskesdas), the prevalence rate of the hepatitis B antigen (HBsAg) in Indonesia reached 9.4 percent in 2009. Between 130 million to 170 million people are also infected with hepatitis C.

More than 340 Indonesians die from hepatitis C every year. The figure is projected to increase by 38 percent in 2015.

Hepatitis has several manifestations, ranging from acute hepatitis to chronic cirrhosis and cancer liver. Each patient, however, does not always experience the same pattern.

Some infections may end at certain stages but others may continue to develop more severely.

The study shows that patient and virus interactions might heavily affect the development of hepatitis.

“The patient’s immune system, and the characteristic of the viruses in adapting to the immune system, will determine whether the infection will grow to more severe stages,” David said.

In Indonesia, patient susceptibility and resistance to the disease are different among people as the country has a diverse population.

Approximately 500 ethnic groups currently live on more than 30,000 islands in the country.

Using more than 500 blood samples from well-defined ethnic groups, the study discovered the ethnogeographical structure of the hepatitis distribution in Indonesia.

“We found that the distribution of hepatitis genotypes and subtypes are in line with the distribution of ethnicities as well as geographical origin,” David said. Genotype B is predominant in western Indonesia, while the C genotype is predominant in eastern part of the country.

When examining chronic hepatitis C patients, scientists found that they generally had type one viruses, the most prevalent in Australia, the study found.

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