Liver center leading record number of studies to tackle hepatitis C

While many research institutions are suffering from funding cuts, Drs. Bruce R. Bacon and Adrian M. Di Bisceglie are chugging away with their usual tenacity.

As co-directors of the Saint Louis University Liver Center, Bacon and Di Bisceglie are overseeing one of the biggest influxes of research dollars in their tenure as SLU hepatologists – totaling more than $1 million.

All of the research protocols have one thing in common: They're investigating new ways to treat – and hopefully cure – hepatitis C, called the “silent killer” because patients display no outward symptoms, allowing the disease to worsen over time, eventually leading to cirrhosis and premature death.

“It's gratifying to have so many trials available to our patients all at once. We hope to contribute to the effective treatment of the millions of people who have hepatitis C,” Bacon says. “It demonstrates how important it is for us to find more effective therapies for this difficult disease.”

There are currently more than 25 research protocols for treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis C going on at SLU Liver Center, ranging from treatments for “naïve” patients, or those who have never received medications for their disease; for non-responders, or those who have tried other forms of therapy with no success; for partial responders and for relapsers.

The Liver Center has research protocols testing protease inhibitors, polymerase inhibitors, immunomodulatory drugs, new interferons, vaccines and new dosing schedules for currently available treatments.

The sheer number of research protocols under way makes it clear to Bacon and Di Bisceglie, two of the world's leading experts in liver disease, that their team has been entrusted as the leading site in St. Louis to continue the fight against hepatitis C.

A blood-borne disease, hepatitis C affects about 5 million Americans, making it five to six times more widespread than HIV. It's estimated that 40,000 people in the St. Louis area alone are infected with the virus. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is home to the nationally recognized center for the research and treatment of these diseases.

Bacon and Di Bisceglie see the greatest promise in protease inhibitors and polymerase inhibitors, newly developed drugs which are designed to work with the existing combination of pegylated interferon plus ribavirin used to treat hepatitis C.

For more information on the ongoing or upcoming hepatitis C trials, please contact the GI/Hepatology Clinical Research Unit at 314-977-9400.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.

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