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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.

The Loyola University Chicago Health Sciences Division (HSD) advances interprofessional, multidisciplinary, and transformative education and research while promoting service to others through stewardship of scientific knowledge and preparation of tomorrow's leaders. The HSD is located on the Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, Illinois. It includes the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, the Stritch School of Medicine, the biomedical research programs of the Graduate School, and several other institutes and centers encouraging new research and interprofessional education opportunities across all of Loyola University Chicago. The faculty and staff of the HSD bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and a strong commitment to seeing that Loyola's health sciences continue to excel and exceed the standard for academic and research excellence. For more on the HSD, visit LUC.edu/hsd.

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