Consultant awarded prestigious research professorship for work to help speed up the elimination of hepatitis C

A consultant at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has been awarded a prestigious research professorship for work to help accelerate the elimination of hepatitis C in the UK.

Professor Graham Cooke has been awarded the research professorship by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to develop new ways of diagnosing and managing people infected with hepatitis C. Professor Cooke will work with patients at St Mary’s Hospital, part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, as part of his professorship.

Hepatitis C is a virus that infects and damages the liver.  It is transmitted through blood to blood contact or injecting drugs.   If left untreated it can lead to scarring of the liver known as cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is a leading cause of death worldwide and is one of the main reasons for liver transplants in the UK.  Treatment has undergone a revolution in recent years and the infection is now curable in most patients with new tablet-only therapies taken for between eight and 12 weeks.  However, in order to eliminate the disease more work needs to be a done on identifying and treating patients who are unaware that they have hepatitis C.

Part of Professor Cooke’s research will develop a device that can diagnose hepatitis C within minutes, in contrast to current tests which can take several days.  This builds on Professor Cooke’s previous collaborative work with DNA Electronics LTD to develop a HIV test on a USB stick which can diagnose the disease in under 30 minutes.  In addition, the team will look in more detail at individuals recently diagnosed with the infection to build a picture on how the disease is being transmitted.  This could help clinical staff identify high risk patients and administer treatment before the infection spreads.

Professor Graham Cooke, said: “About 700,000 people die every year around the world from hepatitis C.  New treatments have transformed our ability to cure this disease and made us much more ambitious about tackling the disease.  In order to eliminate the disease completely we need to focus diagnosing and treating all those infected more quickly, before they pass the virus on.”

The award is to enable academics to spend a fixed five year period dedicated to conducting research that can then be translated into therapies, techniques and medical products that could bring improvements in human health.