A team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have identified a new approach that may soon lead to the discovery of a vaccine to treat the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The approach was detailed in a recent paper in Physical Biology.
More than 170 million people worldwide have HCV, and as many as 350,000 die per year from complications arising out of HCV infection. Over the past few years, there has been a revolution in HCV treatment, with medications that amount to a cure. But vaccination would combat two significant lingering challenges: the high cost of current pharmacologic treatment, and the difficulty in identifying and correctly diagnosing the condition. Yet, despite two decades of research into the virus, an effective vaccine has yet to be developed.
The researchers are hoping to change that through a data mining and computational approach that uses “spin glass” models from statistical physics. The model is borrowed from work used to describe the behavior of magnets and fluids. Applied to HCV, the goal is to chart the effects of manipulating certain proteins and antigens that constitute the virus.
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