In South-East Asia alone, 130 million people carry the hepatitis virus – a statistic well known to Centenary liver scientist, Dr Thomas Tu, whose family members have been affected by the disease.
In an article by The Australian today, Dr Tu explains, “seeing people with the disease has been a driver in keeping me passionate about my research. Family members have contracted the disease, but no one talks about it. They are worried about telling workmates because of the stigma.”
Diagnosis of the hepatitis virus in Australia can be found with a simple blood test, but this is not the case for many in the developing world.
Dr Tu’s research focuses on earlier detection of the hepatitis virus, as well as changes in DNA that occur in the liver before it becomes cancerous. He conducts this research under the supervision of Dr Nick Shackle, in Centenary’s Liver Cell Biology laboratory.
Hepatitis B and C are the most common causes of liver cancer but can go unnoticed, as they can stay inactive for decades – this is why this research is so critical.
The virus can spread incredibly easily, as Dr Tu explains, “there is more than enough of the (hepatitis) virus in an infected adult’s blood to spread across the world’s population.” In addition, ”it can spread very easily, especially to children who are more susceptible to chronic infection”.
However, “there is a means of preventing this disease – [and] it’s cheap by Australian standards. In the long run it saves money and a lot of people’s suffering.” This is something that Dr Tu is very passionate about and hopes this vaccine can become more widely available in areas where the disease is prevalent.