Once considered a chronic and often deadly disease, now doctors are using a powerful word to describe the results of a new treatment for Hepatitis C.
Dr. Donald Jensen, University of Chicago Medicine: “This is a curable disease.”
It is news University of Chicago Medicine’s Dr. Donald Jensen is happy to spread. For 25 years he’s treated patients with hepatitis c, a virus that attacks the liver and causes inflammation. Over time, tissue in the organ turns to scar, cirrhosis sets in.
Dr. Jensen: “It’s like marbling in beef. It’s throughout the liver.”
Patients can develop liver cancer. More commonly, they end up in liver failure and require a transplant. But many don’t realize they have the virus.
Dr. Jensen: “The most common symptom is fatigue, which is pretty common for all of us.”
Judy Palmer knew something was wrong six weeks after she received a blood transfusion due to complications following the birth of her daughter.
Judy Palmer: “I started turning jaundiced and having abdominal pain.”
That was years before doctors even had a name for the virus that was attacking Judy’s liver. In the early 1990s, doctors used interferon alone – an injectable medication that suppresses the virus. But the medicine’s severe side effects, lengthy 12-month course and low success rates deterred many patients. But Judy forged ahead.
Judy Palmer: “My response was always the same … as soon as I was off treatment the virus came back.”
Dr. Jensen: “In 1999 we added another medication called ribavirin and that boosted the success rate from in the teens and 20s to around 40%. In 2011 we added a third drug.”
A protease inhibitor, an oral medication that turns off a genetic switch and stops the virus from replicating.
Dr. Jensen: “Adding a protease inhibitor to a backbone of interferon and ribavirin then boosted the success rate to up to 75%, which is a huge step up.”
Dr. Jensen tested the new combination as part of a clinical trial. Judy signed on. Since that time she’s been virus free.
Judy Palmer: “I tell people this is my miracle. After 30 years I never thought I’d see this day.”
Dr. Jensen: “When we follow those patients out beyond six months and out to 10 years, 98% of those people remain virus undetectable, their liver goes back toward normal, there’s no virus in their liver. At the very least it freezes the disease at the stage they were cured.”
Fifty-seven year old Michael Marcotte is hoping the new drug combination will help him, too. Diagnosed in the early 1990s, he put off treatment, waiting for a more promising therapy.
Michael Marcotte: “It’s scary, when you hear those words that you’re that close to cirrhosis, you can only imagine what goes through your mind. This is like a new lease on life to me.”
Doctors say 75% of Hep C patients are likely baby boomers born between 1945 and 1965, but most don’t now they have the virus. Now the CDC is recommending one-time screening, which will likely uncover 800,000 new cases.
University of Chicago Medicine doctors are looking for more patients to enroll in drug trials. Go to http://www.uchospitals.edu/news/features/hepatitisc-cure.html to learn more.
If you’d like information about the HCV Cure support group for patients, call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200