WOMEN WHO WERE exposed to a Hepatitis C-contaminated blood product in the 1970s are being asked to take part in study at Trinity College.
Between 1977 and 1979, hundreds of Irish women fell victim to infection when they were given virus-contaminated anti-D, which is a blood product given to women with blood groups that are incompatible with their newborn baby.
It prevents the mother from building cells and molecules that would attack and destroy the foetus during a second pregnancy. It therefore saves the life of the unborn child that would otherwise become ill or die.
The normally beneficial product was unknowingly contaminated with the Hepatitis-C virus (HCV), which can invade and gradually destroy the liver.
No signs of infection
Until recently, researchers believed that receiving HCV-contaminated blood products would inevitably lead to infection, as high levels of the virus entered the blood stream directly.
However, in the aftermath of the outbreak, almost half the women screened, who had contact with the virus, showed no signs of infection.
“That means these women must have been naturally protected from the virus. We believe these women have an extra-special ‘super’ immune system that is able to fight viral invaders,” explained Professor of comparative immunology at Trinity College, Cliona O’Farrelly. “We now want to find out why – and how – this system does such a good job.”
To do this, O’Farrelly and her team will look at the information stored within the genes of naturally resistant people. The team will then compare it to the information from the genes of people who are unable to resist infection. They hope this could help to find new ways to make vaccines and anti-viral drugs.
The team is seeking volunteers who were exposed to the contaminated blood product between 1977 and 1979 to help with the study. Women who became infected with HCV as well as those who show no signs of infection are invited to participate.
Researchers said participation in the study is easy, and non-invasive, but could have a major impact on fighting viruses. All that is needed is a saliva sample, which can be collected at home and mailed to the team.
If you are interested in participating or would like to receive further information, you can contact the team by phone on 087 791 3600 or email TCDStudy2016@tcd.ie.
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