By Professor Mark Thursz, Professor of Hepatology within the Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London
Five viruses, hepatitis A – E, specifically infect the liver and cause acute hepatitis or chronic hepatitis.
Over 350 million people worldwide are chronically infected and are therefore at risk of cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C virus are together responsible for over a million deaths per year. The majority of infections and deaths related to these viruses occur in low and middle income countries. In 2010 the United Nations World Health Assembly passed a resolution which recognised the burden of disease imposed by these viruses and initiated a public health response to viral hepatitis which included the inception of World Hepatitis Day.
By James Frater, Amos Bursary student
As part of my gap year, with the help of the Amos Bursary and Imperial College London, I was given the opportunity to spend 3 months in The Gambia. I assisted the PROLIFICA (Prevention of Liver Fibrosis and Cancer in Africa) project, where I was able to experience various laboratory procedures and resource-poor healthcare services.
I was given a thorough induction on laboratory etiquette and different laboratory practices, as well as training on how to handle laboratory equipment and the various biomedical samples. This meant I was confidently able to work in and navigate my way around the laboratory with a relatively good level of competence.
Today, the 28th July, is World Hepatitis Day and the birthday of Nobel Laureate Professor Baruch (Barry) Blumberg, discoverer of the hepatitis B virus and developer of the first hepatitis B vaccine.
Viral hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver, caused a variety of viruses, named alphabetically from A to E. These are spread mostly through contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. With hepatitis B, it can also be passed between mothers and children, sexual partners and between patients and health workers where unsafe medical practice occurs. The prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in injection drug users is also very high, while approximately 10% of the world’s population is currently infected or has been exposed.
By soon to be Imperial medical student, Hannah Lewis
I will start my medical course at Imperial in October 2015 and I was lucky enough to spend 5 months in Gambia at the beginning of the year, gaining insight into medical research in resource-poor settings. It is the smallest country in West Africa, and it is where the British Medical Research Council (MRC) has a big research unit. I worked closely with the Prevention of Liver Fibrosis and Cancer in Africa (PROLIFICA) group, who are looking at the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer.
Initially, I was concerned that, with no previous medical training, I would not be able to learn as much from the experience as fully-fledged medical students.
By Imperial Medical Student, Aisha Chaudry
As part of my gap year placement, I was given the opportunity to be involved in the PROLIFICA study at the Medical Research Council Unit (MRC) in The Gambia.
PROLIFICA is an EC funded project investigating liver cancer, which arises because of cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, a chronic condition that can stop the liver from functioning.
Having reached my halfway point of my time abroad, I have decided to write a report about my experience so far.
Whilst being at the MRC, I have been able to experience research in both a clinical and laboratory setting.