Worldwide, there are 185 million people infected with hepatitis C virus and approximately 350,000 people die each year from hepatitis C associated liver diseases. Human hepatitis C research has been hampered by the lack of an appropriate in vivo model system. Most of the in vivo research has been conducted on chimpanzees, which is complicated by ethical concerns, small sample sizes, high costs, and genetic heterogeneity. The house mouse system has led to greater understanding of a wide variety of human pathogens, but it is unreasonable to expect Mus musculus to be a good model system for every human pathogen. Alternative animal models can be developed in these cases. Ferrets (influenza), cotton rats (human respiratory virus), and woodchucks (hepatitis B) are all alternative models that have led to a greater understanding of human pathogens. Rodent models are tractable, genetically amenable and inbred and outbred strains can provide homogeneity in results. Recently, a rodent homolog of hepatitis C was discovered and isolated from the liver of a Peromyscus maniculatus. This represents the first small mammal (mouse) model system for human hepatitis C and it offers great potential to contribute to our understanding and ultimately aid in our efforts to combat this serious public health concern. Peromyscus are available commercially and can be used to inform questions about the origin, transmission, persistence, pathology, and rational treatment of hepatitis C. Here, we provide a disease ecologist's overview of this new virus and some suggestions for useful future experiments.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental Biology
- Cell Biology