Manipulating the major protein of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) allows the virus to be exposed in a way that the immune system can efficiently detect and attack it. This finding can help improve knowledge behind virus behavior and help in the development of a preventive vaccine for HCV infection.

The results were recently published in the journal Hepatology in a study titled “The core domain of hepatitis C virus glycoprotein E2 generates potent cross-neutralizing antibodies in guinea pigs.”

The genetic sequence of HCV is highly variable, which makes its detection and treatment difficult to standardize and work efficiently.

HCV has the ability to block the immune system’s response by inducing the production of noneffective antibodies. In the current study, researchers from the Burnet Institute in Australia showed that it’s possible to overcome this process.

“What we’ve done is to redirect the immune response to the parts of the virus that you want the immune system to see, and those are the parts that generate broadly cross-reactive antibodies effective against all seven circulating genotypes of virus,” said Heidi Drummer, senior author of the study, in a press release.

“It’s the first time this has been demonstrated in HCV that you can actually re-engineer the surface protein to generate a profoundly different immune response that is now cross-reactive and blocks the virus from entering cells.

“That gives us a lead that we can work with to produce a vaccine candidate that’s going to be amenable for a clinical trial.”