UC Irvine researchers developing one-step test for hepatitis C

Around 3.2 million people in the United States are infected with the hepatitis C virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Effective screening and fast diagnosis are vital for treatment and to control transmission, and UC Irvine Health researchers may have found a way to make that a possibility for more people.

Their development is a one-step test that screens and confirms the virus, also known as HCV, using urine samples.

Current testing for the virus involves a two-step process that requires blood samples.

In a release, Ke-Qin Hu, professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at the UC Irvine School of Medicine, states that many developing countries are not equipped to administer the two-step test and that the test costs over $200 in the United States.

“For the first time, we can use urine specimens for one-step screening and diagnosing of HCV infection,” Hu said in the statement. “Finding a more convenient, easy-to-use and cost-effective screening alternative is imperative because HCV is significantly under-screened and under diagnosed.”

Infection from the virus can lead to hepatitis C, a liver disease that can range from mild to lifelong illness. It can cause liver damage or even complete failure if left untreated.

The virus is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person.

Hu presented the research and findings of the one-step test development at the annual meeting of the American Assn. for the Study of Liver Disease in San Francisco this past weekend.

The current blood-based HCV screening test includes the following two steps: first, the virus-specific antibodies must be detected in the blood. Second, the HCV RNA PCR test must be administered to confirm whether or not the infection is active.

“The ability to detect infection using urine rather than blood avoids needle stick and blood sample collection, greatly reduces the cost and necessary clinical infrastructure for screening and diagnosis, helping to promote widespread adoption of the test on a global scale,” Hu said in a statement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 150 million people in the world have the virus and many who are infected are undiagnosed or unaware of their condition since they do not look or feel ill.

Hep C Hope, an information resource under biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., states that there are treatments available to can help those infected achieve sustained virologic response, meaning no virus is detected in the bloodstream.

Hu will possibly work with partners at the university to further develop the test for commercial use in clinics, according to John Murray, UC Irvine Health Public Information Officer.