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Virus versus virus

Harmless delivery treats hepatitis B

12:54pm, June 11, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — By fine-tuning the genetic code in a snippet of RNA, researchers thwarted the hepatitis B virus in mice without causing apparent toxicity.

When delivered into the liver by a different, harmless virus, the customized RNA blocked more than 95 percent of the production of an enzyme that the hepatitis B virus needs to replicate. The treatment effectively halted the proliferation of the disease-causing virus, according to an unpublished study presented June 10 in San Francisco at the Beyond Genome conference.

"If you drop the viral [count] to a low enough level, the body might be able to clear it," says lead scientist Anton McCaffrey, an RNA biochemist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. About 400 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis B infections, which can lead to life-threatening cirrhosis and liver failure as well as untreatable cancers. Roughly half of the people who contract the disease will eventually clear

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