PhD awarded to Babs Verstrepen at Erasmus University Rotterdam
22 February 2016
On 18 February 2016 Babs Verstrepen successfully defended her thesis "Chronic hepatitis C virus infection in chimpanzees - prevention and consequences."
Approximately 1 to 2 percent of the world's population is chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Of these people, 15 to 30 percent may develop liver failure. Acute infection generally does not cause any clinical symptoms and therefore people will not be aware of the infection. Relatively little is known about the interaction between the virus and the immune system in the early stages of infection. An animal model is essential to study this proces in a controlled manner. To date, the chimpanzee is the only validated animal model in which HCV infection can develop.
Since 2003 in the Netherlands it is no longer allowed to use chimpanzees for invasive biomedical research. Before 2003, several HCV vaccine studies had been performed in chimpanzees. Animal materials of these studies were carefully preserved in the freezer to facilate future in vitro studies. At the virology department of the BPRC Babs Verstrepen has used these materials to study the response of the immune system to the virus. Moreover, she has examined which type of vaccine-induced immune response,is required for protection. This work has led to some valuable new insights. It was shown that neutralizing antibodies play an important role in protection against HCV infection. In contrast, particular cell subsets of the immune system did not provide protection against infection, but did protect against the chronic presence of the virus. More research is needed to translate these findings into an effective vaccine against HCV and to find/develop an animal model that is suitable for testing new HCV vaccines.