Researchers at Rutgers University recently released study results that revealed the structure of a hepatitis C surface protein, which could assist in developing a vaccine.
Joseph Marcotrigiano, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology and the study's lead author, said the outer region of the virus enables it to infiltrate the body's immune system response and cause infection.
"Viruses are smart and it is a constant battle to keep them out," Marcotrigiano said. "That's why the development of a vaccine is so important. It's always better to prevent infection through an effective vaccine than to treat after a chronic infection has been established."
Marcotrigiano said the virus, which is constantly mutating, affects more than 160 million people across the globe. The disease is spread through contact with blood. Most people with the disease don't know they are infected until they require a liver transplant.
Marcotrigiano said a hepatitis C vaccine would prevent people from developing the disease, as well as be the most cost-effective way to combat the illness.
The research team at Rutgers collaborated with a team from Emory University School of Medicine.
University of Alberta researcher Michael Houghton has been developing a vaccine for hepatitis C, and said the new discovery is important in understanding what will help the immune system produce a sufficient antibody response to the virus.