Two years ago, Dr John McLauchlan, Associate Director of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, wrote about two new research consortia, HCV Research UK and STOP-HCV, aiming to make sure that patients infected with hepatitis C receive the right treatment. To mark World Hepatitis Day, he’s back to give us an update ― and some good news about the treatment of chronic hepatitis in the UK.
Since I wrote that first blog post in 2013, both consortia have made considerable progress, and the context in which they are operating has changed dramatically.
One of the most exciting things is that new antivirals are becoming available that can cure patients of their infection. It’s not an understatement to say this new family of drugs (called direct-acting antivirals) are transformative ― clinical trials have shown that it is now possible to clear the virus in a high percentage of those who are infected.
The drugs can be taken as pills, so injections of interferon ― the previous drug of choice which can have nasty side-effects ― are no longer necessary for many patients. The length of treatment is also shorter, so fewer people are likely to stop taking treatment due to side effects.
So what contributions will HCV Research UK and STOP-HCV make as we enter this new era? Read more
Today we announced that, along with the EPSRC, we’re putting £16m into six molecular pathology ‘nodes’ across the country. But you’re not alone if you’re wondering exactly what molecular pathology – or a molecular pathology node – is. Here MRC Programme Manager Dr Jonathan Pearce explains that the aim is to get new diagnostics into the NHS so that we can better spot and treat disease.
Molecular pathology seeks to describe and understand disease at the level of macromolecules (Image: ynse on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0)
Pathology… Isn’t that doing autopsies?
Forensic pathology is just one part of pathology. Pathology actually means the study of disease, and most pathologists spend their time analysing clinical samples such as blood, urine and tissue to either diagnose disease or to understand how diseases develop and progress.
So, what exactly do you mean by molecular pathology?
Historically, pathology has sought to understand disease by looking for differences at the level of tissues and cells.
Molecular pathology is different in that it seeks to describe and understand disease at the level of macromolecules (for example DNA, RNA and protein) and in some cases at an even smaller scale. Read more
Today researchers at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine announced that they have regrown damaged livers in mice. It’s just one example of scientists growing tiny versions of organs in animals and in the lab to study development and disease, and test potential treatments. Many of these organs also represent the first steps towards growing whole organs – or parts of organs – for transplant. MRC Science Writer Cara Steger rounds up progress.
Why might you want to grow a tiny organ? Small organs, or parts of them, are useful for studying both development and disease, and for toxicity testing or testing new treatments. In some cases, mini organs will be able to replace research using animals.
But they also offer a tantalising glimpse of a world in which we can grow complex solid organs for transplant. These tiny organs – often more like proto-organs with just some of an organ’s functions – are quite literally ‘starting small’, first seeing if it’s even possible.
Here we list eight tiny organs that have been grown so far.
Transplanted hepatic progenitor cells can self-renew (yellow) and differentiate into hepatocytes (green) to repair the damaged liver (Image: Wei-Yu Lu, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, The University of Edinburgh’)
The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine researchers used liver stem cells, called hepatic progenitor cells, to regrow damaged livers in mice. After extracting the stem cells from healthy adult mice and maturing them in the lab, the researchers transplanted the cells into mice with liver failure.
In three months the cells had grown enough to partly restore the structure and function of the animals’ livers, providing hope that this technique could one day replace the need for liver transplants in humans.  Read more