February 20, 2018
2 min read

New Jersey Health Foundation grants $50k to hepatitis B, E research

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The New Jersey Health Foundation awarded a $50,000 Innovation Grant to Alexander Ploss, PhD, assistant professor of molecular biology at Princeton University, for hepatitis B and hepatitis E treatment research, according to a press release.

Alexander Ploss, PhD
Alexander Ploss

“Fortunately, there is a vaccine that can prevent hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, but it remains one of the most prevalent chronic virus infections,” Ploss told Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease. “There are some drugs that can suppress viremia, but currently it’s impossible or nearly impossible to cure it, so research efforts and certainly efforts in the pharmaceutical industry have ramped up over the last few years to find some therapeutic regimen that would cure hepatitis B infection — meaning, to actually eliminate the virus from an individual or to functionally inactivate it to avoid disease progression.”

“In my lab, we are trying to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of hepatitis B virus persistence, that includes fairly basic research projects in which we are interrogating how the viruses establish life cycle in human cells,” Ploss continued. “Over the decades, large groups of researchers have worked out reasonably well the basics of the life cycle of hepatitis B, but there are still significant gaps, especially at the step of virus persistence.”

Regarding HEV, Ploss noted interferon and ribavirin have been used as treatments with varying success. However, interferon cannot be used in immunosuppressed patients, such as transplant recipients, and ribavirin cannot be used in pregnant women due to its teratogenic effects.

According to Ploss, one part of the grant will go toward identifying small molecules that interfere with HBV covalently closed circular DNA maintenance, transcription regulation and stabilization. The other part of the project will support efforts aimed at identifying compounds that interfere wit HEV replication. Both their research into HBV and HEV treatment will use novel, scalable assays Ploss and his colleagues have developed.

“We were interested in supporting this research because Dr. Ploss and his team at Princeton University are addressing these limitations by screening for novel compounds and potential treatments,” Dale R. Heffler, vice president of communications at New Jersey Health Foundation, told Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease. “Through the funds provided by New Jersey Health Foundation, Dr. Ploss will be able to quickly advance his research and develop a better understanding about hepatitis B and E. Our hope is that the results from this project will have a significant impact in treating hepatitis.” – by Talitha Bennett

Disclosure: Ploss reports no relevant financial disclosures. Heffler is employed by New Jersey Health Foundation.