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    Aussie boffins given grant to trial new Hepatitis C treatment
    Australian scientists have just won a million-dollar grant from the United States to trial a new treatment for Hepatitis C, a condition which affects hundreds of thousands of Australians.

    The research uses the patients own blood cells to eradicate the virus, a treatment which will be much quicker and have fewer side-effects.

    Almost 250,000 Australians live with Hepatitis C and the numbers are on the increase.

    "There were 16,000 new infections in 2001 ... that's a rate of one new infection every 32 minutes," said Jack Wallace from the Australian Hepatitis Council.

    While patients with Hepatitis C are at risk of serious liver disease, only 5 per cent seek treatment because of the side effects of current medications.

    Scientists from Melbourne's McFarlane Burnet Institute are now working on eradicating Hepatitis C from the inside out, using the patients own immune system to kill the virus.

    "In animal models and a few patients we have shown that this method has definite advantages over current therapies," said Professor Eric Gowans, head of hepatitis research at McFarlane Burnet says.

    Doctors extract white blood cells from patients with Hepatitis C.

    They purify the blood and isolate certain cells capable of identifying foreign elements in the body.

    The cells are then injected back into the patient.

    "The idea is that cells will react and generate an immune response to eradicate the virus," Professor Gowans said.

    If successful, the new treatment will be all over in a month, compared to current therapies which have significant side effects and take up to 12 months to work.

    "If we can offer a different treatment then more people will take up the opportunity to be cured of Hepatitis C, which will have a big impact on the community," Mr Wallace said.

    They will begin recruiting Hepatitis C positive patients to test the treatment next year
 
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