Researchers have developed a new platform for studying human hepatitis C immunity. The method marries microfluidic technology (which allows scientists to precisely manipulate fluid at a microscopic scale) with liver organoids (three-dimensional cell clusters that mimic the biology of real human livers).
In the new hepatitis C immunity modeling system, liver organoids grown from adult stem cells are embedded at fixed positions in channels in the chip. Meanwhile, T cells suspended in a fluid can freely move through the channels and interact with the organoids—similar to the movement of blood-borne T cells in real liver tissue. Because the organoids are fixed in place, researchers can monitor them over time and the T cells using standard microscopy techniques.
The 3D structure and cellular composition of liver organoids allow us to study viral entry and replication in a highly relevant physiological manner. The new approach enables a more controlled and accurate investigation into hepatitis C immunity. The method could accelerate the discovery of a much-needed vaccine.
The hepatitis C virus targets the liver. After the initial infection, some people recover with few or no symptoms, but others experience a lifelong infection that can lead to severe liver disease. Medications can successfully treat hepatitis C but can be difficult to access or afford, and a person who has been treated can later be reinfected.