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Scripps Florida Scientist Awarded $2.2 Million Grant to Study Hepatitis C

Funding Could Help Identify Underlying Mechanisms of Virally Induced Liver Cancer

JUPITER, FL, October 10, 2011 — The Scripps Research Institute has been awarded a $2.2 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine how the hepatitis C virus (HCV) induces liver cancer. The research could lead to potentially new therapeutic targets for treating those chronically infected with the virus.

Timothy Tellinghuisen, an assistant professor on the Florida campus of Scripps Research, is the principal investigator for the project. 

Hepatitis C virus infection is a major public health problem worldwide. Estimates place the number of HCV infected individuals at approximately 170 to 200 million, representing nearly three percent of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization. HCV infection and its assorted pathologies are responsible for an estimated 250,000 deaths a year worldwide.

A majority of patients remain chronically infected, which can lead to progressive liver damage, cirrhosis, and often the development of hepatocellular carcinoma—liver cancer. An estimated 60 to 70 percent of all those infected develop chronic infections and most progress to major liver damage. Each year, as many as five percent of these chronically infected patients will develop liver cancer.

While the mechanisms by which HCV induces liver cancer are largely unknown, Tellinghuisen’s ongoing research points to host cell signaling pathways that are likely altered by the virus, creating a replication niche for the virus that avoids the body’s innate immune system.

“We have identified a host protein—called CARD14—as an important factor for HCV RNA replication,” he said. “We believe that a pathway regulated by this protein gets manipulated by the virus to maintain chronic infections and that this contributes, in part, to liver cancer development. The new grant will help us explore the extensive role of CARD14 in HCV replication and, quite possibly, identify new ways to attack chronic HCV infection.”

Overall, the new grant will enable Tellinghuisen and his colleagues to characterize how the virus manipulates this host cell pathway, identify the genes regulated by this pathway and determine their effect on viral infection and persistence, and define the function of this protein in normal liver physiology.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs more than 2,500 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates and 20 members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering or Medicine—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. In October 2016, TSRI announced a strategic affiliation with the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), representing a renewed commitment to the discovery and development of new medicines to address unmet medical needs. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

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Assistant Professor Timothy Tellinghuisen, Ph.D.
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