Approximately 700 rhesus –ve Irish women who were exposed to hepatitis C virus-contaminated anti-D in 1977/1978 became infected. However, many women who were exposed have no evidence of infection. We believe these women have a very strong immune anti-viral immune system that protected them from infection and we are trying to understand how this works. We aim to study women who received contaminated anti-D but who weren’t infected (i.e. who tested negative for antibodies against hepatitis C virus and negative for HCV nucleic acid). In this study we will be trying to identify specific genetic markers, which are present in resistant women’s DNA, that indicates resistance to hepatitis C virus infection. We will then study the function of those genes. To do this we also need to study women who were infected by contaminated anti-D.
By understanding how Irish women were able to resist hepatitis C virus, we hope to uncover the mechanism that provides protection against viral infections. If we unravel the mysteries of this mechanism, we can try to harness it to create successful vaccines, not only against HCV but perhaps against other recalcitrant viruses. We may also be able to create new anti-viral therapies against not just one but many different viruses.