Researcher published in The New England Journal of Medicine

Dr. Muhammad Y. Sheikh and his colleagues are working to advance treatment for hepatitis C with the first randomized study that showed race to be a factor in the treatment of the disease. This study indicates Latino patients respond poorly to the current hepatitis C treatment when compared to non-Latino patients. It was published in the January 15 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

About 50 centers participated in the nationwide study that enrolled 269 Latino and 300 non-Latino whites with type 1 hepatitis C infection. For 48 weeks, subjects received the current treatment for hepatitis C – a weekly shot and oral medication given twice a day. After 72 weeks, the rate of undetectable virus in the blood of non-Latino whites was 49%. For the Latino group it was 34%.

Current research centers on medications used to treat or prevent infection by viruses, called protease inhibitors, as possible third drugs to add to the ones already used to treat hepatitis C.

 “This study has clearly shown that the Latino population with type 1 hepatitis C virus responds poorly to available Federal Drug Administration approved drugs. As the Latino population grows, hepatitis C poses a major future health problem until we further look into the causes of the poor response or develop more powerful drugs to beat this virus,” said Dr. Sheikh, UCSF Fresno associate clinical professor and chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at Community Medical Centers.

The gastroenterology & hepatology department at Community Regional had the second highest enrollment for this study in the United States after the University of Florida, Miami. The study was sponsored by Roche pharmaceuticals.

“Liver disease is a large problem in the country and a really significant problem, one of many that we have in the Central Valley,” said Dr. Michael Peterson, chief of medicine at UCSF Fresno. “So being able to participate in the leading edge of treatment and diagnosis for these liver diseases is beneficial for the program, beneficial for the people who train here and beneficial for the patients in the area who then get access to that kind of care before the general public does.”

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 48% of the Fresno County population is Hispanic. The number of Hispanics in the United States is projected to nearly triple by 2050 according to the United States Census Bureau.

“This information is now a challenge for investigators to develop new approaches to improve the response rates in Hispanics,” Dr. Sheikh said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting several weeks to a serious, lifelong one. It is the most common chronic blood borne infection in the United States with approximately 3.2 million people chronically infected. The type 1 virus is the most common in the U. S. and is considered the most difficult virus to treat. Hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, liver failure or cirrhosis of the liver. In some cases, a liver transplant may eventually be needed.

Dr. Sheikh cited several ways of preventing hepatitis C by avoiding activities that increase the risk of transferring the virus from one person to another such as injection drug use, sexual exposure, body piercing, sharing personal items and accidental exposure to blood.

The Center for Liver and Endoscopy Associated Research at Community Regional is involved in research in viral hepatitis and other liver diseases. More than 200 research projects and clinical trials are currently under way through the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program, California Cancer Center, Cardiovascular Center of Excellence and CyberKnife program.

This story was reported by Jennifer Avila-Allen. She can be reached at