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, 51 (5), 939-48

The Long and Winding Road Leading to the Identification of the Hepatitis C Virus


The Long and Winding Road Leading to the Identification of the Hepatitis C Virus

Michael Houghton. J Hepatol.


This review describes work conducted largely in my laboratory at the Chiron Corporation between 1982 and 1989 that led to the identification of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Key colleagues included Dr. Qui-Lim Choo in my laboratory and Dr. George Kuo also of Chiron as well as my collaborator Dr. Daniel Bradley at the CDC who provided many biological samples from the NANBH chimpanzee model. Numerous molecular approaches were explored including the screening of tens of millions of bacterial cDNA clones derived from these materials. While this early genomics approach resulted in the identification of many host gene activities associated with NANBH, no genes of proven infectious etiology could be identified. A separate avenue of our research led to the molecular characterization of the complete hepatitis delta viral genome but unfortunately, this could not be used as a molecular handle for HCV. Largely following input from Dr. Kuo, I initiated a blind cDNA immunoscreening approach involving the large-scale screening of bacterial proteomic cDNA libraries derived from NANBH-infectious chimpanzee materials (prior to the development of PCR technology) using sera from NANBH patients as a presumptive source of viral antibodies. Eventually, this novel approach to identifying agents of infectious etiology led to the isolation of a single small cDNA clone that was proven to be derived from the HCV genome using various molecular and serological criteria. This discovery has facilitated the development of effective diagnostics, blood screening tests and the elucidation of promising drug and vaccine targets to control this global pathogen.

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