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Hepatitis B Research Review: February

 

Welcome to the Hepatitis B Research Review! This monthly blog shares recent scientific findings with members of Baruch S. Blumberg Institute (BSBI) labs and the hepatitis B (HBV) community. Technical articles concerning HBV, Hepatocellular Carcinoma, and STING protein will be highlighted as well as scientific breakthroughs in cancer, immunology, and virology. For each article, a brief synopsis reporting key points is provided as the BSBI does not enjoy the luxury of a library subscription. The hope is to disseminate relevant articles across our labs and the hep B community. 

 Summary: This month, researchers in Beijing, China have reported that a therapeutic vaccine composed of polylactic acid microparticles loaded with HBV surface antigen and the mouse STING agonist DMXAA showed efficacy in clearing HBV infection in a mouse model. Researchers from Wuhan, China have reported that SOX2, a transcription factor important for cell proliferation is also a host restriction factor for HBV infection. Also, researchers from the University of Boulder in conjunction with Dr. James Chen’s lab in Dallas have reported the synthesis of two potent cGAS inhibitors.

The incorporation of cationic property and immunopotentiator in poly (lactic acid) microparticles promoted the immune response against chronic hepatitis B – Journal of Controlled Release

This paper from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, introduces a microparticle vaccine which may be used to treat chronic HBV infection (CHB). The 1μm diameter microparticle is made from polylactic acid (PLA), which is a biodegradable polymer typically synthesized from plant starch. The microparticle also contains didodecyldimethylammonium bromide (DDAB) which is a double-chain cationic surfactant. This group has previously shown that DDAB may be used as a carrier for the HBV surface protein (HBsAg). DDAB also gives the microparticle a positive charge, which accelerates its phagocytosis into antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and facilitates its escape from lysosomal degradation once in the cell. Additionally, the group loaded microparticles with the mouse STING agonist  5,6-dimethylxanthenone-4-acetic acid (DMXAA). The microparticles were refereed to as DDAB-PLA (DP) and DDAB-PLA-DMXAA (DP-D) respectively. Both types of microparticle were saturated with HBV surface antigen (HBsAg). The microparticles were first tested on mouse bone marrow dendritic cells (BMDCs). Administration of microparticles caused less than a 20% reduction of cell viability in these cultures. BMDCs treated with DP-D microparticles had at least ten-fold more expression of IRF-7 and IFN-β mRNA as measured by RT-qPCR than those treated with HBsAg or DP microparticles alone. Surprisingly, the DP-D microparticle-treated cells also had about twice the expression of these genes compared to the positive control HBsAg + DMXAA, which contained ten times more DMXAA than the microparticles. This indicates that the DP-D microparticles induced the STING pathway with high efficiency due to their bioavailability. Next, the group found that DP-D microparticles induced the highest level of chemokine expression (measured via RT-qPCR) and immune cell recruitment (measured via flow cytometry) at the site of injection in inoculated mice compared with HBsAg alone, HBsAg with aluminum salts (traditional vaccine adjuvant), and DP microparticles. This result shows that the DP-D microparticles induced both an innate immune response and an adaptive immune response in mice. Further, the group showed that BMDCs treated with DP-D microparticles had a high level of maturation, expressing CD40, CD86, and MHCII molecules on their surface as measured by flow cytometry. Finally, the group administered the HBsAg-primed microparticles to mice infected with recombinant HBV (rAAV-1.3HBV virus, serotype ayw). Mice treated with both types of microparticles showed a higher cytokine response as well as a higher titer of anti-HBsAg antibody as measured by ELISA. Mice treated with the DP-D microparticles had the most profound immune cell activation and  fastest clearance of serum HBsAg. The microparticle vaccine introduced in this publication is promising because it is highly efficient in delivering antigen to immune cells. The microparticles are unique in that they contain a small molecule STING agonist inside. This design is clever because this vaccine stimulates the innate immune system by activating STING and the adaptive immune system by displaying HBsAg to APCs. This promotes HBV clearance in a multifaceted approach: immune cells produce cytokines through the STING pathway, T cells recognize and destroy infected cells, and B cells secrete anti-HBsAg antibodies to neutralize newly formed viruses. This publication highlights the versatility of biodegradable microparticle technology in designing unique approaches to combat infection. Micro- and nanoparticle delivery systems represent a promising avenue for future drugs to combat HBV and other viruses.

SOX2 Represses Hepatitis B Virus Replication by Binding to the Viral EnhII/Cp and Inhibiting the Promoter Activation – Viruses
This paper from Wuhan University in China identifies the protein sex determining region Y box 2 (SOX2) as a host factor that restricts HBV replication. SOX2 is a transcription factor critical for cell proliferation and the tumorigenecity of solid tumors. In 2006, expression of SOX2 along with three other transcription factors was shown to convert somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells. Overexpression of SOX2 indicates poor prognosis in patients undergoing resection of HCC. In HCC cells, SOX2 has also been found to induce the expression of programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1), leading to the tumor’s evasion of the host immune system. Previously, it has been demonstrated that HBV infection induces increased expression of SOX2 in hepatocytes. This study demonstrates that SOX2 inhibits HBV replication by binding to the Enhancer II (EnhII) and Core Promoter (Cp) regions of the HBV genome. By binding to the EnhII/Cp region, SOX2 disrupts the transcription of the mRNA species precore, core, polymerase, and pgRNA. This reduction of mRNA transcription results in reduced levels of core-associated DNA, HBV surface antigen (HBsAg), and HBV e antigen (HBeAg). To learn this, the group co-transfected both HepG2 and Huh7 cells with a fixed concentration of  HBV 1.3-mer plasmid DNA alongside variable concentrations of Flag-tagged SOX2 in pcDNA3.1 plasmid DNA. Cells transfected with higher concentrations of SOX2 plasmid DNA showed reduced levels of HBV mRNAs (3.5, 2.4, and 2.1 kb) via Northern blotting. SOX2-transfected cells also showed reduced levels of HBV core-associated DNA via qPCR as well as reduced levels of both HBsAg and HBeAg via ELISA. Next, in order to learn  if SOX2 interacts directly with an HBV promoter, a dual-luciferase reporter assay was implemented. Here, four vectors were used, each containing one of the HBV enhancer and/or promoter sequences (preS1, preS2, EnhⅡ/Cp, and EnhⅠ/Xp) upstream of a firefly luciferase reporter. Each of these firefly luciferase reporter vectors were co-transfected into HepG2 cells alongside variable concentrations of SOX2 plasmid DNA. A plasmid encoding Renilla luciferase was also included at a constant concentration in each transfection as a control for transfection efficiency. While firefly luciferase has an emission of 625 nm (red), Renilla luciferase has an emission of 525 nm (green). Therefore, levels of red fluorescence were used to measure the activity of the HBV enhancer/promoter sequences and levels of green fluorescence were utilized as a control for transfection efficiency. Co-transfection with SOX2 significantly diminished the luciferase activity of the EnhII/Cp reporter only and in a dose-responsive manner, indicating its interaction with that region of the HBV genome. Further, using HBV-producing HepAD38 cells, chromatin immunoprecipitation coupled with quantitative PCR (ChIP-qPCR) was used to isolate SOX2 protein and then determine what DNA sequence it was bound to. The EnhII/Cp sequence was found to be highly enriched on SOX2 protein. In order to determine which part of the SOX2 protein is required for binding to the EnhII/Cp region, truncated forms of SOX2 were generated in the pcDNA3.1 plasmid. Using the assays described above, it was found that only SOX2 mutants lacking the high mobility group (HMG) domain were unable to bind to the EnhII/Cp region and suppress HBV products. Interestingly, it was found that SOX2 mutants lacking the transcription activation (TA) domain were still able to bind to the EnhII/Cp region. Further, it was demonstrated by Western blot of subcellular fractions and immunofluorescence that SOX2 mutants lacking the HMG domain were unable to enter the nucleus. Finally, studies were performed in an in vivo BALB/c mouse model. Mice were given a hydrodynamic injection of an adeno-associated viral vector conferring HBV (pAAV-HBV1.3) alongside pcDNA3.1 plasmid DNA conferring SOX, SOX2 lacking HMG domain ( SOXΔHMG), or empty vector. Levels of HBsAG and HBeAg in the blood at days two and four were reduced only in mice given the full length SOX2 plasmid. Additionally, mice given the full length SOX2 plasmid had a reduction of 3.5kb HBV mRNA in liver tissues as measured by qPCR and a lower abundance of HBV core antigen (HBcAg) in liver tissues as measured by immunohistochemical staining. This study shows that SOX2 protein, previously shown to be upregulated by HBV, plays an anti-HBV role in the liver. SOX2 is therefore a new host restriction factor of HBV replication. SOX2 may be one protein which contributes to HBV-induced hepatocarcinogenesis, given its role in promoting the transcription of genes involved in cell proliferation. In the future, SOX2 may be utilized for its anti-HBV activity or targeted for the treatment of HCC.

 Discovery of Small Molecule Cyclic GMP-AMP Synthase Inhibitors – The Journal of Organic Chemistry

This paper from the University of Colorado Boulder introduces the development of novel small molecule inhibitors of the protein cyclic GMP-AMP synthase (cGAS). This publication is in conjunction with Dr. James Chen’s laboratory at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Chen’s lab discovered cGAS in 2012. cGAS is a cytosolic, double-stranded DNA (dsDNA)-sensing protein. It belongs to the nucleotidyltransferase family of enzymes which transfer nucleoside monophosphates, the substituents of nucleic acids. When cGAS recognizes dsDNA, it synthesizes the cyclic dinucleotide cyclic GMP-AMP (cGAMP). cGAMP acts as a second messenger and activates the stimulator of interferon genes protein (STING). Once activated, STING triggers TBK1- and IKK-mediated activation of the transcription factors interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3) and nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-kB). In the nucleus, IRF3 and NF-kB induce the expression of type I interferons and other inflammatory cytokines. cGAS is essential for detecting foreign pathogens which contain dsDNA and triggering an innate immune response to clear them. However, excessive or dysfunctional cGAS activity may lead to chronic inflammation and/or autoimmunity. Pharmacologic inhibition of cGAS may provide treatments for diseases including Aicardi-Goutiés syndrome (AGS), lupus erythematosus, and cancer. Current small molecule inhibitors of cGAS are limited by poor specificity and/or cellular activity. In this study, a high throughput virtual screen (HTVS) was utilized to screen about 1.75 million drug-like compounds for activity against the dimer-forming and DNA-binding faces of mouse cGAS (mcGAS). mcGAS was utilized for the in silico screen because the human cGAS (hcGAS)-DNA complex was only recently published. From this virtual screen, ten compounds were further investigated, leading to the selection of one lead compound. This lead was further optimized for greater potency through chemical modifications resulting in the analogues CU-32 and CU-76. The IC50 of both compounds is below 1µM. To test these compounds’ selectivity for cGAS, human monocyte cells THP-1 were either transfected with  interferon-stimulatory DNA (ISD) or infected with Sendai virus (SeV). ISD is a 45-basepair DNA known to activate cGAS, while SeV is a single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) virus known to activate the RIG-I-MAVS pathway; both stimuli are known to result in IRF3 activation and dimerization. Following treatment with both compounds, Western blot of the cells was conducted probing for the formation of IRF3 dimers. In ISD-treated cells, CU-32 and CU-76 inhibited the formation of IRF3 dimers in a dose responsive manner. Neither compound had any effect on IRF3 dimer formation in SeV-infected cells. This result indicates that these inhibitors are selective to cGAS. Using in silico molecular docking studies, the group speculates that these compounds disrupt the interface of the cGAS dimer, allosterically inhibiting dimerization. The discovery of novel cGAS inhibitors is exciting and important for multiple reasons. These compounds, if made commercially available will allow for improved experimentation investigating the cGAS/STING pathway. If these compounds or their derivatives are found to be safe and effective in humans, they may be promising candidates for the treatment of autoimmune disorders or cancer.

 

Meet our guest blogger, David Schad, B.Sc., Junior Research Fellow at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute studying programmed cell death such as apoptosis and necroptosis in the context of hepatitis B infection under the direction of PI Dr. Roshan Thapa. David also mentors high school students from local area schools as part of an after-school program in the new teaching lab at the PA Biotech Center. His passion is learning, teaching and collaborating with others to conduct research to better understand nature.

 

Hepatitis B Research Review – February

Welcome to the Hepatitis B Research Review! This monthly blog shares recent scientific findings with members of Baruch S. Blumberg Institute (BSBI) labs and the hepatitis B (HBV) community. Technical articles concerning HBV, Hepatocellular Carcinoma, and STING protein will be highlighted as well as scientific breakthroughs in cancer, immunology, and virology. For each article, a brief synopsis reporting key points is provided as the BSBI does not enjoy the luxury of a library subscription. The hope is to disseminate relevant articles across our labs and the hep B community. 

This paper from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany shows that hepatocytes infected with HBV exhibit innate immune signaling via the pattern precognition receptor (PRR) Toll-Like Receptor 2 (TLR2). The adaptive immune response to HBV infection is well characterized and is broken into phases based on serological testing of antibodies produced against the virus. However, whether HBV infection triggers an innate immune response has remained controversial, with the long-held belief being that HBV evades the innate immune system as a “stealth virus”. Contrary to this view, studies of acute HBV infection in patients have indicated an early, innate immune response to HBV characterized by a natural killer (NK) cell response. Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are a class of membrane-bound receptor proteins which play a key role in innate immunity by recognizing foreign pathogens and activating inflammatory signaling cascades. A previous publication from this group has demonstrated that primary human hepatocytes (PHHs) can be stimulated through the TLR proteins TLR1-9. In this paper, PHHs from human donors were infected with HBV ex vivo. Then, expression of the innate immune cytokines Interleukin 1 Beta (IL1B), Interleukin 6 (IL6), and Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha (TNFα) were measured by quantitative, reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). HBV-infected PHHs showed greatly increased expression of these genes at three hours after infection compared to mock-infected and not treated PHHs. Additionally, immunocytochemical staining revealed translocation of the transcription factor nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NFκB) to the nuclei of HBV-infected PHHs, indicating a cytokine response. Next, to characterize the innate immune response caused by HBV infection, a DNA microarray was used. Here, PHHs were either infected with HBV or treated with a known TLR ligand such as Pam3Cys (TLR2 agonist) or poly(I:C) (TLR3 agonist). Then, RNA was extracted from the cells and converted through a complementary DNA (cDNA) intermediate into biotin-labeled anti-sense RNA (aRNA) which was then hybridized to a Human Genome U219 Array Plate. This plate, coated with over 530,000 DNA probes representing over 20,000 human genes served as a scaffold for complementary base-pair binding of the aRNAs derived from the cells. Once bound to the microarray, the biotin-labeled aRNAs were detected by staining with streptavidin phycoerythrin, resulting in a fluorescent signal wherever complementary base-paring occurred. This microarray analysis revealed which specific inflammatory genes were up-regulated in the PHHs by each stimuli. Gene expression signals which were induced by HBV infection were compared with those induced by the TLR agonists. The gene expression profile of HBV-infected PHHs was most similar to that of PHHs treated with the TLR2 agonist Pam3Cys. This data indicates that HBV infection induces a TLR2-like innate immune response. Importantly, no expression of interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) was detected in the microarray analysis. Finally, PHHs were pre-treated with neutralizing antibodies against TLR2 (nABTLR2) prior to infection with HBV. HBV-mediated induction of IL1B, IL6 and TNF was significantly reduced by nABTLR2 pre-treatment and conversely, HBV replication was increased. In summary, this paper shows that PHHs exhibited an innate immune response to HBV infection via the TLR2 pathway. The group suggests that this response is one of the body’s first steps leading to HBV clearance. Furthermore, in the discussion section the group indicates that the HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) is likely the protein component of HBV which activates TLR2 upon infection. This finding may help in the development of strategies to cure chronic HBV infection.

​This paper from Wuhan University in China reports that HBV infection can increase the expression of Programmed Death Ligand 1 (PD-L1) on the surface of infected hepatocytes, allowing them to escape destruction by the adaptive immune system. PD-L1 is the binding partner of Programmed Death 1 (PD-1), an immune checkpoint protein on the surface of T cells. The expression of PD-L1 on cell surfaces allows for their recognition by circulating T cells as part of the body and not an outside threat. This interaction is important for the prevention of autoimmune disorders in which the immune system attacks healthy cells of the body. However, PD-L1 is commonly over-expressed in a number of cancers and is a hallmark of especially aggressive cancers. PD-L1 expression on cancer cells allows them to neutralize T cells which specifically target them. This is one example of an “immune-escape” strategy exhibited by cancers. Accordingly, PD-L1 and PD-1 are the target of a number of FDA approved immunotherapies for cancer including the PD-L1 inhibitors Tecentriq, Bavencio, and Imfinzi and the PD-1 inhibitors Keytruda, Opdivo, and Libtayo. These drugs are some of the first in their class in that they are not small molecules, but are recombinant, monoclonal antibodies. Phosphatase and tensin homologue deleted on chromosome 10 (PTEN) is a tumor suppressor which is mutated or deleted in many human cancers. PTEN is a phosphatase, a protein which dephosphorylates other molecules. This group has previously shown that PTEN plays a role in antiviral innate immunity. Therefore, they wanted to see if PTEN also regulates the adaptive immune response in the context of HBV infection. First, they used immunohistochemical staining of patient liver tissues to compare the levels of PTEN and PDL-1 in patients chronically infected with HBV vs healthy controls. There was a reduced staining of PTEN and a heightened staining of PD-L1 in chronic HBV tissues compared to controls. The group then found a similar correlation using immunofluorescence, qPCR and Western blotting of HepG2 cells vs HepG2.2.15 (HBV-producing) cells. They also transfected HepG2 cells and infected mice via hydrodynamic injection with an HBV-containing vector (pHBV1.3) or an empty vector control (pUC18) and then performed qPCR and/or Western blotting.  In all systems, HBV infection/production induced a reduction of PTEN and an increase in PD-L1 expression. Then, in order to elucidate this phenomenon further, a PTEN-expressing plasmid was transfected into HepG2.2.15 cells, which resulted in a reduction in PD-L1 mRNA and protein. Conversely, PTEN knockdown in HepG2.2.15 cells resulted in a two-fold increase in PD-L1 mRNA and protein expression. These results show that HBV inhibits PTEN expression which in turn causes up-regulation of PD-L1. Next, the group transfected HepG2 and Huh7 cells with a number of constructs conferring individual HBV proteins. They found that HBV X protein (HBx) and HBV polymerase (HBp) reduced PTEN expression more than any other HBV protein components. Next, the group analyzed how HBV production in hepatocytes affected human T cells grown in co-culture. Jurkat T cells were co-cultured with either HepG2 or HepG2.2.15 cells and then analyzed by flow cytometry. Jurkat T cells grown alongside the HBV-producing HepG2.2.15 cells had a higher incidence of apoptosis, a higher expression of PD-1, and less Interleukin-2 (IL-2) secretion than those grown alongside HepG2 cells. This result indicates that HBV-infected hepatocytes suppress local T cell responses by PD-L1/PD-1 signaling. Finally, the group used a mouse model of HBV infection to show that PTEN over-expression promotes HBV clearance in vivo. This paper shows that PD-L1, a highly studied drug target implicated in the immune-escape of cancers is also up-regulated by HBV infection. Furthermore, the HBV proteins responsible for this up-regulation are HBx and HBp. This finding may help in the development of  immunotherapies to treat chronic HBV infection. Perhaps FDA approved PD-L1 or PD-1 inhibitors may be used in conjunction with interferon alpha treatment or HBV antivirals to boost the immune response against HBV-infected hepatocytes.

This paper from National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan reports the design and testing of nanoparticles which selectively confer immunogene therapy to hepatocellular carcenoma (HCC) cells. Nanoparticles are very small (1-1000nm) particles which have become an attractive novel drug candidate in recent years. The use of nanoparticles as medicine would enable the customizable delivery of DNA, RNA, or protein payloads to cells. The novel nanoparticles presented here deliver both a small interfering RNA (siRNA) against the Programmed Death Ligand 1 (PD-L1) gene as well as a plasmid DNA (pDNA) encoding the cytokine Interleukin 2 (IL-2). The strategy behind the nanoparticles’ design is to both inhibit an immunosuppressive gene (PD-L1) and up-regulate an immunostimmulatory gene (IL-2) in tumor cells. Delivery of such genes to tumor cells would make them more vulnerable to destruction by circulating cytotoxic T cells (CD8+ T cells). This type of approach is needed, because many advanced tumors create an immunosuppressive tumor micro-environment (TME) rendering many cancer treatments ineffective. The nanoparticles presented here are referred to as tumor-targeted lipid dendrimer-calcium phosphate (TT-LDCP) nanoparticles. The nanoparticles consist of a core of calcium phosphate, thymine-capped polyamidomine (PAMAM) dendrimers, siRNA, and pDNA. This core is coated with an inner lipid called DOPA and outer leaflet lipids DOPC, DOTAP, and DSPE-PEG. The nanoparticle is then tagged with SP94 (SFSIIHTPILPL), a polypeptide which selectively binds to HCC cells but not healthy hepatocytes. Dendrimers are repeatedly-branching molecules which exhibit a sphere-like shape. PAMAMs are the most well-characterized class of dendrimers, consisting of branching amide and amine groups. The calcium phosphate and PAMAM dendrimers in the core of the TT-LDCP nanoparticle promote endosomal escape of the nucleic acid payload. Additionally, this group shows that the PAMAM dendrimers in TT-LDCP nanoparticles also activate the STING pathway. The group showed that STING was activated by treating mouse HCC cells HCA-1 with complete nanoparticles or those lacking the dendrimers. Cells treated with complete nanoparticles showed, by Western blot a higher level of both TBK1 and IRF3 phosphorylation than those treated with incomplete nanoparticles. Those cells treated with complete nanoparticles also displayed heightened transcription of the STING-triggered proinflammatory genes Ifnb,Ccl5, and Cxcl10 as measured by qPCR. Furthermore, the group showed that treatment using their nanoparticles of mice bearing orthotopic HCC implants resulted in dendritic cell maturation in those animals, regardless of the identity of the genes delivered. These results indicate that the dendrimers used in the TT-LDCP nanoparticles not only serve for efficient delivery of nucleic acids, but also as adjuvants that stimulate the STING pathway and activate tumor-infiltrating dendritic cells. This publication gives a glimpse into what future therapies for cancer may look like. The nanoparticle designed by this group is unique in that it has multiple functionalities: selectively targeting HCC cells, inhibiting PD-L1 expression, inducing IL-2 expression, and activating the STING pathway. Such a complex design is bound to require fine tuning before it can become a medicine. But a multi-target immunotherapeutic such as this may be exactly what is needed to help the body fight against aggressive, immunosupressive tumors.

Lay Summary: 
This month, the innate immune system was the focus of HBV research. Scientists hope to find how the innate immune system interacts with HBV during viral infection and proliferation. Doing so will shed light on host factors which lead to chronic infection and inform antiviral strategies. Notably, this month a human protein, MX2 was found to have potent anti-HBV activity by preventing cccDNA formation. Also, a microRNA encoded by HBV called HBV-miR-3 was found to activate the human innate immune system to limit HBV replication. This month, a paper studying woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) traked activation of the innate immune system as well as he adaptive immune system in an acute infection model. Also this month, concerning hepatocellular carcenoma (HCC), the alternative splicing of mRNA in tumors was found to vary in HCC patients based upon their risk factor (HBV, HCV, or alcohol). Finally, a review was published this month concerning STING, an innate immune protein which is not activated by HBV infection but which may prove a valuable tool for cancer treatment.  

Meet our guest blogger, David Schad, B.Sc., Junior Research Fellow at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute studying programmed cell death such as apoptosis and necroptosis in the context of hepatitis B infection under the direction of PI Dr. Roshan Thapa. David also mentors high school students from local area schools as part of an after-school program in the new teaching lab at the PA Biotech Center. His passion is learning, teaching and collaborating with others to conduct research to better understand nature.

The Journey to Hepatitis Elimination in Nigeria

Nigeria, with an estimated population of 190 million people, has a Hepatitis B prevalence of 8.1% and Hepatitis C at 1.1%, based on a recent Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey(NAIIS) report. The NAIIS survey was a National house-hold based Survey that assessed the prevalence of HIV and related health indicators including the national prevalence of two additional blood-borne viruses: Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus. This gives an estimated number of about 19 million Nigerians living with Hepatitis B and or C.

The large population and relatively high prevalence rates of hepatitis B and hepatitis C, suggest that Nigeria should be considered a key country for hepatitis elimination efforts. Nigeria’s population was estimated at over 190 million in 2017, and growing rapidly, with projections suggesting it will surpass the United States to become the third most populous country in the world by 2050

The Journey to Hepatitis Elimination in Nigeria

In 2018, Patient groups and members of the World Hepatitis Alliance under the umbrella of the Civil Society Network on viral hepatitis in Nigeria partnered with the Federal Ministry of Health, and World Health Organization (WHO) to organize the 1st Nigeria Hepatitis Summit in Abuja, FCT. The meeting was the flagship event in the country that brought together 26 states Ministry of health officials, academia, and civil society groups to engage on ways to accelerate hepatitis elimination in the country. The event was supported by Gilead Sciences and Roche Products Limited, with technical support from Clinton Health Access Initiative.

In May 2019 as a follow up to the Summit, the National Viral Hepatitis Control Program, convened the first Review meeting of all Hepatitis Desk officers across Nigeria in Abuja, with the active participation of the civil society groups in the event. The meeting was organized to review the Hepatitis Treatment facilities directory and share best practices among key actors.

In response to high prevalence rates and in alignment with the global effort towards elimination, The Nigerian Ministry of Health developed the National Viral Hepatitis Strategic Plan 2016 to 2020, which maps out actions to put Nigeria on the path of hepatitis elimination. National guidelines for the prevention, care and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C were also developed and published in 2016, which centre on firmly establishing the management of viral hepatitis as part of universal health coverage. Although there is a paucity of data on modes of viral hepatitis transmission within Nigeria, local intelligence suggests that there are some modes of transmission that are particularly relevant, including mother-to-child transmission, healthcare related transmission due to poor infection control and traditional cultural practices, including scarification, female genital mutilation, male circumcision, and uvulectomy.

However, whilst this political will and strategic direction are promising, there remain substantial challenges to the realisation of these plans and the attainment of elimination goals in Nigeria.

Although there have been efforts to work towards universal health coverage in Nigeria, the health system has limited funding, and there is a need for coordination between the levels of government.

Challenges to accessing health care in Nigeria

Although guidelines and strategic direction have been developed to guide Nigeria’s response to viral hepatitis, important barriers remain in place, which must be surmounted to reach elimination targets. These include geographical and financial barriers to accessing testing and treatment and the availability of alternative tests and treatment providers that lack connection with the health system and efficacy for treatment outcomes.

Service barriers to hepatitis care

The allocation of health care resources, including the health care workforce, in Nigeria, is skewed towards secondary and tertiary services, which are predominantly situated in urban areas. Currently, the majority of hepatitis treatment in Nigeria is provided at tertiary level services, which are not easily accessible to large parts of the population.

Financial barriers to hepatitis care

For Nigerians that are able to access health care services, significant financial barriers remain to access testing and treatment for hepatitis. Despite an effort to develop a system of universal health coverage, the majority (approximately 70%) of health spending for health in Nigeria still comes from private expenditure. The majority of this is out-of-pocket spending, with only a small minority of Nigerians (approximately 4-5%) covered by health insurance. Costs of testing and treatment pose significant barriers to accessing viral hepatitis care, as tests, treatments, and vaccines must be paid for privately, and there is often limited availability of supplies.

This barrier of cost in accessing the hepatitis continuum of care is the primary drive towards quackery and unethical practices perpetrated by some organizations and individuals in Nigeria, providing alternative herbal and relatively cheaper treatment options to vulnerable and gullible patients.

The l ack of social and financial risk protection for Nigerians in accessing hepatitis continuum of care leads to high levels of poverty, vulnerability, and inequality in health

Elimination efforts in Nigeria

Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) to date is leading in providing access to affordable treatment for Hepatitis C patients in Lafiya, Nasarawa state, through its partnership with the government. The program provides affordable HCV RNA @ $35 and generic DAAs/month @ $80/month. CHAI through its access program has succeeded in negotiating costs of HCV diagnostics in some health centres across Nigeria, such as Lagos, Abuja, and Kwara, where patients can access affordable HCV RNA tests.

Similarly, Taraba State Government in partnership with Roche Products is providing a Pegasys based HBV treatment program for Tarabans. The Yakubu Gowon Centre in partnership with Taraba state government is also providing affordable diagnostics and treatment on HCV for patients at its treatment locations in Takum local council of Taraba state. The centre recently donated some doses of DAAs for patients.

Birth-dose HBV vaccination: Nigeria has a coverage rate of about 51% birth-dose HBV vaccination rate in the country. Sadly, there are no HBV vaccination programs for at-risk populations such as Men who Have Sex With Men, health care workers, People Who Inject Drugs, Incarcerated Populations. There are no government-funded harm reduction projects for People Who Inject Drugs in Nigeria.

Over 80% of activities of civil society and patient groups in Nigeria are on-demand creation, awareness and testing and linkage to care for patients. In June 2019, Centre for Initiative and Development (CFID) and other civil society organizations in Nigeria received a donation of 120 doses of DAAs at the African Hepatitis Summit in Kampala, Uganda through the African Regional Board Member.

Nigeria and the 2030 target

Unless something drastic is done, Nigeria and most of Africa stands the risk of missing the SDGs Goal 3.3 and the WHO Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis Elimination target for 2030.

Nigeria, with its vast mineral, natural resources, and human capital, has what it takes to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. But what it lacks is the strong political will and financial commitment by governments at all levels to finance an elimination strategy!

References:

  1.  1st Nigeria Hepatitis Summit Report, 2019
  2.  World Hepatitis Summit 2015. New data shows relentless rise in hepatitis deaths.
  3. World Health Organization (WHO). Global Hepatitis Report 2017. Geneva: WHO, 2017.
  4.  WHO, 2016.WHO Global Health Sector Strategy for the Elimination of Viral Hepatitis: 2016-2030
  5. NASCP, Nigeria Viral Hepatitis Strategic Plan: 2016-2020
  6.  World Health Organization (WHO). Global Hepatitis Report 2017. Geneva: WHO, 2017:Availableat:apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/255016/9789241565455-eng.pdf;jsessionid=9DECA1FF83BC4A8CAE3BE2649662?sequence=1
  7. Centers for Disease C, Prevention. Progress in hepatitis B prevention through universal infant vaccination – China, 1997–2006. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2007;56(18): 441–445

Hepatitis B Research Review

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the Hepatitis B Research Review! This monthly blog shares recent scientific findings with members of Baruch S. Blumberg Institute (BSBI) labs and the hepatitis B (HBV) community. Technical articles concerning HBV, Hepatocellular Carcinoma, and STING protein will be highlighted as well as scientific breakthroughs in cancer, immunology, and virology. For each article, a brief synopsis reporting key points is provided as the BSBI does not enjoy the luxury of a library subscription. The hope is to disseminate relevant articles across our labs and the hep B community. 

Interferon-inducible MX2 is a host restriction factor of hepatitis B virus replication Journal of Hepatology

  • This paper from Fudan University in Shanghai, China reports the interferon-induced GTPase MX2 as a host protein which inhibits HBV replication. Interferon alpha (IFN-α) is a type 1 interferon used in a subset of HBV-infected patients to help eradicate the virus. IFN-α treatment results in the activation of hundreds of genes known as interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs). Which ISGs are most important in eliminating HBV infection remain largely unknown. GTPases are a large family of hydrolase enzymes which convert guanosine triphosphate (GTP) to guanosine diphosphate (GDP). GTPases act as molecular switches in an array of cellular process including signal transduction, cell division and differentiation, and protein translocation. The myxovirus resistance (Mx) proteins are highly conserved, dynamin-like, large GTPases. Humans have two MX proteins: MX1 and MX2, both of which are known ISGs. While MX1 is known to have broad-spectrum antiviral activity against RNA viruses, MX2 has only recently been shown to inhibit human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and hepesviruses. MX2 antiviral activity against HIV-1 and herpesviruses is mediated through MX2 binding to the capsid of invading viruses whereby it likely inhibits the uncoating of viral DNA. In HCV, MX2 was found to interact with non-structural protein 5A (NS5A) thereby inhibiting its localization to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). MX1 has been reported to inhibit HBV replication by inhibiting nuclear export of viral RNas and/or trapping the HBV core protein indirectly. This study investigates the anti-HBV activity of MX2. First, the group compared the anti-HBV activity of MX2 to four other innate immune restriction factors: HNRNPU, SAMHD1, MOV10 and A3G. They co-transfected these genes along with the HBV genome into HUH-7 cells and then assessed HBV replication via Southern blot. MX2 was found to inhibit HBV replication the most, with 44% of viral DNA compared to the empty vector control. The group then used siRNA, Southern blot, Western blot, fractionation, and mutagenesis studies to elucidate the anti-HBV role of MX2. Overall, they found that MX2 significantly reduces HBV RNA levels and indirectly impairs cccDNA formation. MX2 was found to contribute substantially to the anti-HBV affect of  IFN-α. Both the GTPase activity and oligomerization status of MX2 were found to be important in conferring its anti-HBV affect. In the future, MX2 and its related pathways may be exploited to help prevent the formation of and even eliminate cccDNA in those infected with HBV.

An HBV-encoded miRNA activates innate immunity to restrict HBV replication – Journal of Molecular Cell Biology

    • This paper from the Tianjin Medical University in China explains how an HBV-encoded microRNA (miRNA) activates the innate immune system in humans infected with the virus. miRNAs are short (21-25 nucleotides) sequences of mRNA which are mainly involved in post-transcriptional silencing of genes. miRNAs are produced in plants, animals, bacteria, and viruses. Typically, miRNA acts to silence protein translation from a messenger RNA (mRNA) by binding to the 3′ untranslated region (UTR) of the mRNA. This binding may result in the destabilization or cleavage of the mRNA or inhibit the function of the ribosome during translation. This group has identified an miRNA from the HBV genome called HBV-miR-3 which they have previously reported inhibits HBV replication by targeting the HBV mRNA transcript. In this paper, the group first shows that HBV-miR-3 is produced in an amount proportional to virus infection in vitro. They also show that HBV-miR-3 is secreted from cells in exosomes. Next, using both patient serum samples and in vitro assays, the group found a positive correlation between HBV-miR-3 production and IFN-α signaling pathways. In patient serum, levels of HBV-miR-3 positively correlated with levels of the hepatitis-related parameters alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate transaminase (AST) and type I IFNs (IFN-α and IFN-β). In cell culture, they observed an increased expression of  the IFN-α-induced antiviral effectors OAS-1, MX1, IFIT2 and IFIT3 in the context of HBV-miR-3 production. Further experiments indicated that HBV-miR-3 promotes IFN-α production by suppressing the expression of suppressor of cytokine signaling 5 (SOCS5), allowing for signal transducer and activator of transcription 1 (STAT1) to be activated by phosphorylation. Finally, the group shows that HBV-miR-3 released from infected cells in exosomes  promotes polarization of the M1 macrophage phenotype. M1 or “classically activated” macrophages secrete high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and thereby fight pathogenic infections. Taken together, these results show that aside from directly limiting HBV replication, HBV-miR-3 also indirectly limits HBV infection by activating the host innate immune system. The virus may do this in order to adopt host miRNA-mediated antiviral machinery and thereby alleviate pathogenesis so that persistent and latent infection can continue. In the future, levels of HBV-miR-3 may be used as a diagnostic marker for HBV infection and may shed light on novel antiviral approaches.

Innate and adaptive immunity associated with resolution of acute woodchuck hepatitis virus infection in adult woodchucks – PLOS Pathogens

    • This paper from Georgetown University in Washington, DC is a “woodchuck paper”. That is, it is an in vivo study of woodchucks infected with Woodchuck Hepatitis Virus (WHV). WHV infection is used as a model system for HBV infection in humans because WHV is similar to HBV. This type of study is beneficial, especially when studying the immune response to hepadnaviruses, because humans infected with HBV are typically asymptomatic in the early stage of infection and because it is not advisable to obtain liver biopsies from these patients. The woodchuck infection model offers a controlled infection with WHV at a known time-point, which can be monitored by regular blood tests and liver biopsies. When studying the immune response to hepadnaviruses, liver biopsies are necessary because the liver is the site of the infection. About 95% of adults infected with HBV “clear” the virus; that is, their immune system is able to fight off the virus completely, giving them life-long immunity. The other 5% become chronic carriers of HBV and are at a high risk for liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, 95% of infants infected with HBV become chronic carriers. Differences in the immune systems of adults vs infants have been attributed to this drastic difference in chronicity, but what specific components of the immune system are important in staving off chronic infection remain unknown. Overall, the data presented here indicate that there is an early, non-cytolytic control of WHV replication mediated by interferon gamma (IFN-γ) produced mainly by natural killer (NK) cells. This was followed by an adaptive immune response characterized by antibody production, a T-cell response, and cytolytic action of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). This adaptive immune response led to both the decline of WHV as well as symptoms of acute hepatitis B (AHB) including sinusoidal and portal inflammation in the liver.

Differential alternative splicing regulation among hepatocellular carcinoma with different risk factors BMC Medical Genomics

    • This paper from the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, Utah uses bioinformatics to examine how different risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) correlate with differential alternative splicing (AS) of tumor mRNAs. After a primary (precursor) mRNA transcript is produced in the nucleus by RNA polymerase, the transcript must “mature” by having regions called “exons” removed in a process called splicing. Splicing results in an mRNA transcript consisting entirely of “introns”. The mRNA is then capped at its 5′ end with a 7-methylguanosine residue and polyadenylated at its 3′ end with about 200 adenylate residues (poly-A tail). This mature mRNA is able to exit the nucleus and be translated into protein by a ribosome. Alternative splicing (AS) describes how one genomic region may code for many different protein variants (isoforms) by differential spicing of the primary mRNA transcript. A common mechanism of AS is “exon skipping”, where exons are included in some mature transcripts but not others. HCC has various risk factors including alchohol consumption and infection with hepatitis B or C viruses (HBV and HCV). This study used data from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and  the Genomic Data Commons (GDC) Data portal to analyze 218 patients with primary HCC associated with HBV (n = 95), HCV (n =47), or alcohol (n = 76). They used RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) data to examine differences in AS between three groups: HBV vs. HCV, HBV vs. alcohol, and HCV vs. alcohol. 143 genes were identified with differential AS across these groups and these genes were found to be mainly involved in immune system, mRNA splicing-major pathway, and nonsense-mediated decay pathways.Of the 143 AS genes identified, eight and one gene were alternatively spliced specific to HBV and HCV respectively. The human leukocyte antigen genes HLA-A and HLA-C had differential AS in HBV-related HCC compared to both HCV- and alchohol-related HCC. HLA ptoteins are part of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class 1 surface proteins which present foreign antigens to the immune system. Also, exon 3 of  the gene encoding inositol hexakisphosphate kinase 2 (IP6K2) was skipped more often in HBV-related HCC than in other groups. IP6K2 is known to be involved in cancer metastasis. This study represents the first investigation into how different risk factors of HCC may affect the AS status of specific genes.

The Cytosolic DNA-Sensing cGAS–STING Pathway in Cancer (Review) Cancer Discovery

    • This review from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City covers current understanding of the cGAS-STING pathway in the context of cancer. While it is well known that the cGAS-STING pathway is an evolutionarily-conserved  antiviral signaling platform, how this pathway is involved in tumorigenesis remains unclear. In preneoplastic (early tumor) cells, cGAMP produced in response to DNA damage is exported out of the cell to activate STING in neighboring antigen-presenting cells (APC). This activation results in the release of type 1 interferon (IFN) from the APC, which cross-primes natural-killer and CD8 T-cells to kill the preneoplastic cells. In this context, the cGAS-STING pathway plays a role in tumor surveillance by activating innate immunity to create “hot spots” of inflammation. However, there is also evidence that activation of the cGAS-STING pathway can contribute to tumorigenesis.  In advanced, metastatic tumor cells, chronic activation of STING by chromosomal abnormalities leads to suppressed production of IFN and the upregulation of Nf-kB-driven pro-survival genes. This can drive chronic inflammation of the tumor as well as its metastasis to other locations in the body. Activation of the STING pathway in tumor cells may also allow for their immune evasion by inducing autophagy and upregulating expression of programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1). Another interesting finding mentioned in this review is a STING-independent form of cGAS activation which may drive tumorigenesis during cell division. During mitosis, cytoplasmic cGAS may bind to repeat sequences in the centromere regions of chromosomal DNA. Once bound, cGAS may interrupt the repair of sister chromatids by homologous recombination, causing aneuploidy in daughter cells, a hallmark of tumor cells. Of additional interest, mentioned in this review are several recent findings regarding the cGAS-STING pathway, including: cGAS can be activated by extracellular DNA entering the cell in exosomes; cGAS can be activated by “micronuclei” which are small nuclear compartments in the cytoplasm formed by chromosomal instability; cGAS-DNA complexes turn into a liquid phase to produce cGAMP; STING dimers oligomerize to form tetramers when activated; palmitoylation of STING has been proposed to recruit TANK binding kinase 1 (TBK1) and interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3).

Lay Summary: 
This month, the innate immune system was the focus of HBV research. Scientists hope to find how the innate immune system interacts with HBV during viral infection and proliferation. Doing so will shed light on host factors which lead to chronic infection and inform antiviral strategies. Notably, this month a human protein, MX2 was found to have potent anti-HBV activity by preventing cccDNA formation. Also, a microRNA encoded by HBV called HBV-miR-3 was found to activate the human innate immune system to limit HBV replication. This month, a paper studying woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV) traked activation of the innate immune system as well as he adaptive immune system in an acute infection model. Also this month, concerning hepatocellular carcenoma (HCC), the alternative splicing of mRNA in tumors was found to vary in HCC patients based upon their risk factor (HBV, HCV, or alcohol). Finally, a review was published this month concerning STING, an innate immune protein which is not activated by HBV infection but which may prove a valuable tool for cancer treatment.  

Meet our guest blogger, David Schad, B.Sc., Junior Research Fellow at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute studying programmed cell death such as apoptosis and necroptosis in the context of hepatitis B infection under the direction of PI Dr. Roshan Thapa. David also mentors high school students from local area schools as part of an after-school program in the new teaching lab at the PA Biotech Center. His passion is learning, teaching and collaborating with others to conduct research to better understand nature.

Join Us For a Twitter Chat for Liver Cancer Awareness Month!

 

 

 

 

October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month. Each year in the United States, about 33,000 people get liver cancer and a large portion of liver cancer cases are caused by viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is preventable and when diagnosed and linked to care early, can be treated to prevent liver cancer from developing. The majority of people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C are unaware of their status and often find out after serious damage has occurred. Liver cancer is one of the only cancers that continues to rise steadily each year. On Wednesday, October 23 at 3PM ET representatives from Hepatitis B Foundation, CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, and NASTAD will co-host a twitter chat to discuss the link between liver cancer and viral hepatitis as well as the importance of engaging communities most affected, particularly patients, in our response.

A large part of our chat this year is centered upon the patient voice. The patient perspective is essential to our efforts to prevent liver cancer and improving the lives of those affected by it. Jacki Chen, one of the Hepatitis B Foundation’s #justB storytellers and Karen Hoyt, a hepatitis C patient advocate with the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable,  will be joining this year’s twitter chat as featured guest to share their unique experiences.

Below are the questions to be discussed during the chat. How can you participate? Join the conversation that day and throughout the month with the hashtag #LiverChat19. Share any resources or strategies you have that raise awareness about the link between liver cancer and hepatitis as well as how to better engage communities most affected, particularly patients, in our work. We also encourage you to share any videos or photos you have of your work in your communities or activities during Liver Cancer Awareness Month!

· Q1: What are things everyone should know about liver cancer, and also the link between hepatitis and liver cancer?

· Q2: What can people do to prevent hepatitis, or for those living with hepatitis, what can be done to protect the liver and prevent liver cancer?

· Q3: What are the barriers that keep people from getting screened for hepatitis and liver cancer and how can they be addressed?

· Q4: Why are some communities more vulnerable to hepatitis and liver cancer, and how do we address the disparities?

· Q5: How do we engage communities most affected by hepatitis or liver cancer in our work? Why is this important?

· Q6: What resources are available to educate others about hepatitis B & C and liver cancer? What resources are needed?

· Q7: Who are your key partners in addressing liver cancer? Who would you like to engage more in your work? (Tag them here!)

· Q8: What is one lesson learned or piece of advice for others who want to expand their work on the link between viral hepatitis and liver cancer?

· Q9: Centering the voices of patients and liver cancer survivors is incredibly important in improving our response and ensuring their needs are being met. How do you do this in your work? How can we as a community do this better?

Co-hosts and featured partners of the chat include:

· Hepatitis B Foundation – @hepbfoundation

· NASTAD – @NASTAD

· CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis – @cdchep

· CDCNPIN will be moderating the chat – @cdcnpin

· Jacki Chen – @jacki0362

· Karen Hoyt – @hepatitisIhelpC

· Global Liver Institute- @GlobalLiver

· American Liver Foundation- @liverUSA

Confirmed participants and their handles include:

· National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable- @NVHR1

· Hep B United – @hepbunited

· Hep B United Philadelphia – @hepbunitedphila

· Liver Cancer Connect – @LiverCancerConn

· Hepatitis Delta Connect – @HepDConnect

· Hepatitis Education Project – @HepEduProject

· Minnesota Department of Health – @MNHealth

· Hep Free Hawaii – @HepFreeHawaii

· Hawaii Health – @HIgov_Health

· Hep Free NYC – @HepFreeNYC

· MD Anderson Cancer Center – @MDAndersonNews

· AAPCHO – @HepBPolicy

. HHS Viral Hepatitis – HHS_ViralHep

· Kiiza Alexander – @KiizaAlexander

· Minnesota Health Department – @MNHealth

·HHS Division of Viral Hepatitis – @HHS_ViralHep

·HHS Division of Viral Hepatitis – @HHS_ViralHep

·Rowaye Ridwan – @otunbaridwan

·Hassan Muhammad Bature – @Hasanb1980

·Lilian Mary Nabuya – @Inabunya

·Wenyue Lu – @lu_wenyue

·Dave Nkengeh – @Davy_Tazinkeng

·Hepatitis B Initiative of Washington D.C. – @HBIDC

· Shakur Xassan – @sheykoshee

· Temple University Center for Asian Health- @KnowCancer

· Asian Health Coalition -@CAHE_AHC

·Maryland Cancer Collaborative

Just getting started with Twitter? Do you wish to join the conversation but you don’t know how? Type #LiverChat19 in the search box of the Twitter application to follow the chat, and click on “Latest”. Email michaela.jackson@hepb.org to be added to the list of confirmed participants!

#Tri4ACure: Racing For Hepatitis B Awareness & Cure Research

On September 8th, 2019, Edwin Tan participated in one of the toughest and most exhausting triathlons in the world: the Ironman. The Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.22-mile run raced in that order. It was Edwin’s first time racing in an Ironman, and although it took him over 13 hours – on a cold, rainy day – to finish, he did not give up! 

The completion of the Ironman race marks the end of Edwin’s #Tri4aCure journey, which officially began in June 2019. Since the beginning of the summer, Edwin has competed in 6 races – over 336 miles – to raise money and awareness for hepatitis B research, patient outreach, and education; we are extremely proud of his accomplishments! 

Edwin Tan – a 29-year-old mechanical design engineer from Minneapolis, Minnesota – was diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2014. Like many others, Edwin’s diagnosis came as a surprise. After he learned his hepatitis B status, Edwin decided to learn all that he could about the infection. Through his research, he found that one of the best ways to keep his liver healthy was through small lifestyle changes. Edwin began to pursue healthier life choices by increasing the amount of exercise he was getting and paying closer attention to his diet. 

Edwin’s decision to compete in an Ironman was driven by his hepatitis B journey. Researching the topic made him aware of the lack of education and extreme stigma surrounding the illness. The Ironman was a testament to the strength, endurance, & determination that those living with hepatitis B display each day.  “The theme of this race for me was perseverance, which I felt was fitting for my hepatitis B story, “ said Edwin. “Completing an Ironman, which is regarded as one of the most difficult one-day athletic events, serves as a good example that we each can accomplish anything we want as long as we believe in ourselves.” 

In addition to being one of the Foundation’s supporters, Edwin is also a #justB storyteller! His video is just as inspirational and motivating as his #Tri4ACure journey. “I’m going to prove what I can achieve even while living with hepatitis B,” said Edwin in reference to competing in an Ironman. 

The Hepatitis B Foundation is thrilled to have been a part of such a positive, encouraging adventure. Although the races may be over, you can still contribute to Edwin’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for a cure for hepatitis B right here

Hepatitis Delta: Flying Under the Radar in the U.S.

As of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires over 100 diseases, infections and conditions – including hepatitis A, B and C – to be reported by state and local health departments. Physicians who diagnose these conditions, and diagnostic laboratories, are required to report confirmed and/or suspected cases to health departments, who then notify the CDC. This requirement allows the government to monitor disease patterns and track outbreaks to contain the spread of disease and protect the public. While all other forms of viral hepatitis are federally ‘reportable’, hepatitis delta cases are not required to be reported. Hepatitis delta is the most severe form of viral hepatitis, and spreads similarly to hepatitis B; through blood and sexual fluids, making it a public health threat, particularly for the 2.2 million people who already have hepatitis B in the U.S.

Hepatitis delta can only be contracted along with hepatitis B or after someone is already infected with hepatitis B. Acute cases can cause liver damage and even liver failure, and in chronic cases, can accelerate the rate of liver disease progression, as there are no effective treatments available. Although estimated to affect 5-10% of hepatitis B patients, hepatitis delta is severely underdiagnosed, leaving the true disease burden largely unknown in the U.S. and worldwide.

In conjunction with awareness efforts, adding hepatitis delta as a reportable disease could reveal a more accurate prevalence landscape of hepatitis B and delta coinfection and allow for more effective prevention efforts. The CDC asserts that “reporting of cases of infectious diseases and related conditions has been and remains a vital step in controlling and preventing the spread of communicable diseases,1” yet hepatitis delta has still been left out of the list of nationally reportable diseases. While notifying CDC is only voluntary2, 23 states have designated hepatitis delta infections as reportable to local and state health departments, allowing for surveillance of outbreaks, particularly relevant to the current nationwide opioid crisis.

Worchester, Massachusetts, which is currently experiencing a hepatitis A outbreak, also saw one of the worst hepatitis delta outbreaks in the country in the mid 1980’s. The infection was seen among drug users and their sexual partners, sickened 135 people, and killed 15. In those infected with hepatitis B, delta coinfection was present in 54% of drug users and 33% of their sexual partners3
. Interestingly, in Massachusetts, only labs (and not clinicians) are required to report hepatitis delta cases. The reporting requirement allowed the state to be alerted of a spike in cases and respond accordingly – a luxury many other states may not have if neither labs nor clinicians are required to report in their state.

Some states are even scaling back their surveillance; in 2016, New York State removed hepatitis delta from their list of reportable diseases, citing just 21 cases in a two-year period and a health code that asserts a “providers obligation” to “report unusual manifestations of novel strains of hepatitis.”4. Although hepatitis delta is more common outside the U.S., there is evidence to suggest persistent and even growing prevalence. A 2016 prevalence map presented by Eiger BioPharmaceuticals revealed New York City as a “hot-spot” for hepatitis delta cases5. Although more recent prevalence studies are sparse, and often include only small sample sizes, several have noted increases in hepatitis delta coinfection among certain groups. One study in Baltimore, published in 2010, compared blood samples from drug users in the 1980’s to samples obtained from 2005-2006 – and found a 21% increase in hepatitis delta coinfection among people already chronically infected with hepatitis B6. A 2015 study analyzed the blood records of 2,100 hepatitis B positive veterans – nearly 4% were coinfected7. A larger study, analyzing chart records of 500 chronic hepatitis B patients in California found that 8% of patients had a delta coinfection8. Another 2018 publication utilized data from 2011-2016 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and estimated there to be over 350,000 Americans with past or current hepatitis delta9.

While the true burden of hepatitis delta in the U.S. is debated, one study that analyzed diagnosis codes for over 170 million people showed 10,000 coinfected patients newly diagnosed in 2016 alone4. The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) recommends delta testing in high-risk groups, but countless journals and leading hepatologists have called for universal testing of hepatitis B patients for hepatitis delta9,10,11  which could reveal thousands of unknown infections. Low awareness, testing, and the lack of inclusion on the notifiable diseases list contribute to the unclear picture of prevalence in the U.S. Inconsistent reporting across states creates holes in data collection and opportunities for missed outbreaks and subsequent treatment and prevention efforts. Adding hepatitis delta to the list of reportable diseases nationally could be the key to understanding who this ‘hidden epidemic’ is affecting, and where, and allow for effective surveillance to prevent future infections.

For more information about Hepatitis Delta Connect or hepatitis delta, visit www.hepdconnect.org or email connect@hepdconnect.org.

References:

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1990, June 22). Mandatory Reporting of Infectious Diseases by Clinicians. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001665.htm.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). National notifiable diseases surveillance system (NNDS): Data collection and reporting. Retrieved from https://wwwn.cdc.gov/nndss/data-collection.html

3. Lettau, L. A., McCarthy, J. G., Smith, M. H., Hauler, S. C., Morse, L. J., Ukena, T., et al. (1987). Outbreak of severe hepatitis due to delta and hepatitis B viruses in parenteral drug abusers and their contacts. N Engl J Med, 317(20), 1256-1262.

4. The City of New York. (2016). Hepatitis D and E and other suspected infectious viral hepatitides reporting. Retrieved from http://rules.cityofnewyork.us/tags/reportable-diseases.

5. Martins, E and Glenn, J. Prevalence of Hepatitis Delta Virus (HDV) Infection in the United States: Results from an ICD-10 Review. Poster Sa1486 DDW May 2017.

6. Lauren M. Kucirka, Homayoon Farzadegan, Jordan J. Feld, Shruti H. Mehta, Mark Winters, Jeffrey S. Glenn, Gregory D. Kirk, Dorry L. Segev, Kenrad E. Nelson, Morgan Marks, Theo Heller, Elizabeth T. Golub, Prevalence, Correlates, and Viral Dynamics of Hepatitis Delta among Injection Drug Users, The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 202, Issue 6, 15 September 2010, Pages 845–852.

7. Kushner, T., Serper, M., & Kaplan, D. E. (2015). Delta hepatitis within the veterans affairs medical system in the United States: Prevalence, risk factors, and outcomes.

8. Gish, Robert & Yi, Debbie & Kane, Steve & Clark, Margaret & Mangahas, Michael & Baqai, Sumbella & A Winters, Mark & Proudfoot, James & Glenn, Jeffrey. (2013). Coinfection with Hepatitis B and D: Epidemiology, Prevalence and Disease in Patients in Northern California. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology. 28. 10.1111/jgh.12217

Valentine’s Day: Dating, Love, and Hepatitis B

Valentine’s Day is a day of celebration, but it can also bring about worries and stress. Some might feel pressure about buying the right gifts for their loved ones. Maybe you’re wondering if it’s too soon in your relationship to celebrate the holiday. We may not be able to help you figure out what type of candy your partner likes the most, but we can help you navigate the holiday if you or a loved one is living with hepatitis B!

Can my partner and I have sex if one of us is infected and the other is not?

One way that hepatitis B is spread is through unprotected sex. This means that certain precautions need to be taken if your partner is uninfected, has not been vaccinated, or has not completed their vaccine series yet. Precautions include using a condom correctly. Using condoms can also prevent other sexually transmitted infections, like hepatitis C and HIV, that can be harmful to everyone, but especially to those who have chronic hepatitis B. Please keep in mind that certain sexual activities carry higher risks of transmission because of tiny, often microscopic tears in the membrane that may occur and increase the chances of direct blood contact! If you believe your partner has been accidentally exposed, they should contact their doctor or a local physician to begin post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) as soon as possible. PEP can prevent chronic hepatitis B if caught early enough, so it is very important to inform the doctor of a possible exposure soon after it occurs.

If your partner has already completed the 2 dose (where available) or 3 dose vaccine series, there is nothing to worry about! They are not at risk for transmission! The recommended schedule for the three-dose vaccine consists of a dose at 0, 1 and 6 months, and the two-dose adult vaccine is at 0 and 1 month.  Some individuals may be interested in an accelerated vaccine schedule. Please understand that an accelerated schedule entails four shots, not three. The fourth shot would be administered at one year and would provide long term protection. Those that choose a shortened schedule will not have long term protection from hepatitis B if they do not complete the fourth dose. And your partner should have their blood tested 4 weeks after their last vaccine dose to confirm that they are protected.

I’m scared to tell my partner that I have hepatitis B.

It can be intimidating to tell a person something so personal, especially if you are uncertain about how they will react. However, it is extremely important! Even if you are using condoms, it is necessary to let your partner know your status before becoming intimate. Once you tell them, it will be a huge relief!

So, how can you prepare for the conversation?

  1. Research: hepatitis B can be confusing, so it is important that you both are familiar with the infection, including how it is transmitted! Apart from HBF’s website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has great information and handouts (in multiple languages!) on the infection. Consider printing one or two fact sheets out for your partner to look over.
  2. Take a deep breath: Don’t rush into the conversation. Take a moment to think about what you want to say. This will help you to stay calm and allow the conversation to progress. Remember to let your partner talk as well!
  3. Speak confidently: Don’t let hepatitis B speak for you! Let your partner know what you’ve learned about your infection and inform them that you are regularly visiting the doctor to monitor the infection. Speaking confidently can help keep them calm as well, and assure them that there is nothing to worry about!

If they react badly to the news at first, don’t worry! Everybody processes things at different rates and many people fear what they don’t understand. Try giving them some space and let them think about the information they’ve been given. You can also show them Heng’s #justB video; it tells the story of a man who fell in love and married a woman who is living with chronic hepatitis B and how he still supports her today! Also, remind your partner that hepatitis B is vaccine preventable! Three simple shots can protect them for life and they will never have to worry about the risk of transmission again!

Some people will never react kindly to the news, and that’s okay too! It may be disappointing, but don’t let it keep you down! You deserve someone who will accept and love you for who you are! Your chronic hepatitis B infection does not define you; it is just a small part of who you are.

For Partners of Chronic Hepatitis B Patients:

Valentine’s Day is a  time of love, and what better way is there to show love than by being supportive? If your partner is living with hepatitis B, you can show them you care in small ways! Perhaps it’s skipping the alcohol once in a while when you two go out with friends so they don’t feel alone. You can also try cooking healthy meals with them or exercising together a few times a week. Small gestures can say big things!

What’s the Difference: Hepatitis A vs Hepatitis B

With five different types of viral hepatitis, it can be difficult to understand the differences between them. Some forms of hepatitis get more attention than others, but it is still important to know how they are transmitted, what they do, and the steps that you can take to protect yourself and your liver!

This is part two in a three-part series.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver”. A liver can become inflamed for many reasons, such as too much alcohol, physical injury, autoimmune response, or a reaction to bacteria or a virus. The five most common hepatitis viruses are A, B, C, D, and E. Some hepatitis viruses can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure, or even liver cancer. Damage to the liver reduces its ability to function and makes it harder for your body to filter out toxins.

Hepatitis A vs. Hepatitis B

While hepatitis A and B both impact the liver, the two viruses differ greatly from one another. Hepatitis B is a blood-borne pathogen; its primary mode of transmission is through direct blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. In contrast, hepatitis A can be spread by fecal-oral transmission or by consuming food or water that has been contaminated. It is important to note that a person cannot contract hepatitis B through casual interactions such as holding hands, sharing a meal with, or eating foods prepared by someone who is infected. There is no need to keep plates and utensils separate. However, hepatitis A can be spread through food that is prepared by an infected person. Hepatitis A is primarily caused by poor sanitation and personal hygiene. Poor sanitation and hygiene can be the result of a lack of essential infrastructure like waste management or clean water systems. It can also result from a lack of education.

Hepatitis A is an acute infection; the virus typically stays in the body for a short amount of time and most people make a full recovery after several weeks. Recently, the United States has seen a rise in hepatitis A infections. The rise is partially attributed to a growing homeless population and increases in injection drug use. You can track hepatitis A outbreaks in the United States by using this map.

Unlike hepatitis B, which rarely has symptoms, people infected with hepatitis A generally develop symptoms four weeks after exposure. However, children under the age of 6 often do not show any symptoms. Oftentimes, an infected adult will experience nausea, vomiting, fever, dark urine, or abdominal pain. Older children and adults with hepatitis A will typically experience jaundice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Once a person makes a recovery, they cannot be reinfected. Their body develops protective antibodies that will recognize the virus and fight it off if it enters their system again. Hepatitis A rarely causes lasting liver damage, but in a small percentage of individuals, it can cause acute liver failure called fulminant hepatitis. Some people with hepatitis A feel ill enough that they need to be hospitalized to receive fluids and supportive care.

On the other hand, hepatitis B begins as a short-term infection, but in some cases, it can progress into a chronic, or life-long, infection. Chronic hepatitis B is the world’s leading cause of liver cancer and can lead to serious liver diseases such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Most adults who become infected with hepatitis B develop an acute infection and will make a full recovery in approximately six months. However, about 90% of infected newborns and up to 50% of young children will develop a life-long infection. This is because hepatitis B can be transmitted from an infected mother to her baby due to exposure to her blood. Many infected mothers do not know they are infected and therefore cannot work with their physicians to take the necessary precautions to prevent transmission. It is extremely important for all pregnant women to get tested for the hepatitis B – if they are infected, transmission to their baby can be prevented!

There are vaccines to protect people against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. If you are unvaccinated and believe that you have been exposed to hepatitis A, you should contact your doctor or local health department to get tested. If you were exposed by consuming contaminated food, the health department can work with you to identify the source of exposure and prevent a potential outbreak. Depending on the situation and when you were exposed, your doctor may administer postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) to help prevent the infection or lessen its impact. For hepatitis A, PEP is given in the form of one dose of the vaccine or immune goblin.

For unvaccinated individuals, PEP is also recommended after a possible exposure to hepatitis B and is usually given as a dose of the vaccine. In certain cases, a physician will recommend that a patient receive both the vaccine and a dose of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) for additional protection. As recommended by the CDC, all infants born to hepatitis B surface antigen positive mothers (HBsAg positive) should receive both a dose of the hepatitis B vaccine and a dose of HBIG within 12 hours of birth in order to prevent transmission. As timing is crucial in the prevention of disease, a healthcare provider should be notified as quickly as possible after a potential exposure.

Prevention

Hepatitis A and B vaccines can protect you for life! The hepatitis A vaccine is given in 2-doses over the span of six months and the hepatitis B vaccine is given in 3-doses over the course of six months; there is even a 2-dose hepatitis B vaccine now available in the U.S.! You can also ask your doctor about getting the combination vaccine for hepatitis A and B together, which will reduce the number of shots you need.

The CDC recommends that people living with chronic hepatitis B also get vaccinated for hepatitis A to protect themselves against another liver infection and potential liver damage. While the hepatitis A vaccine is routinely given to children in the United States, other countries have different vaccine recommendations, so check with your doctor to see if you have been vaccinated. Hepatitis A can also be prevented by good hygiene practices like washing your hands with soap and hot water after using the bathroom or before preparing food, but the best form of prevention is always vaccination!

What’s the Difference: Hepatitis B vs Hepatitis C?

With five different types of viral hepatitis, it can be difficult to understand the differences between them. Some forms of hepatitis get more attention than others, but it is still important to know how they are transmitted, what they do, and the steps that you can take to protect yourself and your liver!

This is part one in a three-part series.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver”. A liver can become inflamed for many reasons, such as too much alcohol, physical injury, autoimmune response, or a reaction to bacteria or a virus. The five most common hepatitis viruses are A, B, C, D, and E. Some hepatitis viruses can lead to fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure, or even liver cancer. Damage to the liver reduces its ability to function and makes it harder for your body to filter out toxins.

Both hepatitis B and C are blood-borne pathogens, which means that their primary mode of transmission is through direct blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. Also, both hepatitis B and C can cause chronic, lifelong infections that can lead to serious liver disease. Hepatitis B is most commonly spread from mother-to-child during birth while hepatitis C is more commonly spread through the use of unclean needles used to inject drugs.

 

Hepatitis B vs. Hepatitis C

Despite having an effective vaccine, hepatitis B is the world’s most common liver infection; over 292 million people around the world are estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis B. While hepatitis C tends to get more attention and research funding, hepatitis B is considerably more common and causes more liver-related cancer and death worldwide than hepatitis C. Combined, chronic hepatitis B and C account for approximately 80% of the world’s liver cancer cases. However, studies show that those with chronic hepatitis B are more likely to die from liver-related complications than those who are infected with hepatitis C. With hepatitis C, most people develop cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, before liver cancer. In certain cases of hepatitis B, liver cancer can develop without any signs of cirrhosis, which makes it extremely difficult to predict the virus’ impacts on the body, and makes screening for liver cancer more complicated.

The hepatitis B virus is also approximately 5-10 times more infectious than hepatitis C, and far more stable. It can survive – and remain highly contagious – on surfaces outside of the body for up to 7 days if it is not properly cleaned with a disinfectant or a simple bleach solution. A new study suggests that the hepatitis B virus has the ability to survive in extreme temperatures, whereas the hepatitis C virus has been known to survive outside of the body for a short period of time on room-temperature surfaces. However, more research will need to be done on the topic.

Another major difference between the two forms of hepatitis is how the virus attacks a cell. The hepatitis C virus operates like other viruses; it enters a healthy cell and produces copies of itself that

Hepatitis C Virus
Courtesy of Google Images

go on to infect other healthy cells. The hepatitis B virus reproduces in a similar fashion, but with one large difference – covalently closed circular DNA. Covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA) is a structure that is unique to only a few viruses. Unlike a typical virus, hepatitis B’s cccDNA permanently integrates itself into a healthy cell’s DNA – a component of the cell that allows it to function properly and produce more healthy cells. The cccDNA resides within an essential area of the cell called the nucleus and can remain there even if an infected person’s hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) levels are undetectable. Its presence means that a person with chronic hepatitis B may have a risk of reactivation even if the HBsAg levels have been undetectable for a long period of time. The complex nature and integration process of cccDNA contributes to the difficulties of finding a cure for hepatitis B. The cccDNA’s location inside of the nucleus is especially troublesome because it makes it difficult to isolate and destroy the cccDNA without harming the rest of the cell.

Hepatitis C, on the other hand, has a cure! Approved by the FDA in 2013, the cure is in the form of an antiviral pill that is taken once a day over the course of 8-12 weeks. For hepatitis C, a cure is defined as a sustained virologic response (SVR), which means that the virus is not detected in a person’s blood 3 months after treatment has been completed. In the United States, an affordable, generic version of the hepatitis C cure is set to be released by Gilead Sciences, Inc. in January 2019.

People living with chronic hepatitis B are susceptible to hepatitis Delta. Only people with hepatitis B can contract hepatitis D as well. Hepatitis Delta is considered to be the most severe form of hepatitis because of its potential to quickly lead to more serious liver disease than hepatitis B alone. Of the 292 million people living with chronic hepatitis B, approximately 15-20 million are also living with hepatitis D. Unlike HIV and hepatitis C coinfections, there are currently no FDA approved treatments for hepatitis Delta. However, there are ongoing clinical trials that are researching potential treatments!

Hepatitis B/C Coinfection

It is possible to have both hepatitis B and C at the same time. The hepatitis C virus may appear more dominant and reduce hepatitis B to low or undetectable levels in the bloodstream. Prior to curative treatment for hepatitis C, it is important for people to get tested for hepatitis B using the three-part blood test (HBsAg, anti-HBc total and anti-HBs). People currently infected with hepatitis B (HBsAg positive) or those who have recovered from past infection (HBsAg negative and anti-HBc positive) should be carefully managed according to the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) treatment guidelines in order to avoid dangerous elevation of liver enzymes resulting in liver damage.

How to Protect Yourself   

The hepatitis B vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family against hepatitis B. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, you can protect yourself from both liver infections by following simple precautions! Simple steps such as not sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes, thoroughly washing your hands, and disinfecting surfaces that have been in contact with blood, can keep your liver healthy!