HFHS LogoAccording to a Henry Ford Hospital study, extending hepatitis C treatment for liver transplant patients beyond existing practice may lead to high rates of clearance of the hepatitis C virus from the blood along with a low rate of relapse.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services estimated that more than 16,000 liver transplants were performed last year. In addition, there are at present almost 18,000 Americans on the liver transplant list.

For the purpose of the study, the authors were believed to have examined approximately 241 consecutive liver transplant patients from the year 1999 to 2006. Patients were offered treatment if they tested hepatitis C positive, had frequent hepatitis C with at least Stage I fibrosis on biopsy, and stable immunosuppression for a minimum period of three months. Patients appear to have received either non-pegylated interferon tiw or pegylated interferon weekly in combination with ribavirin.

Of the study patients with hepatitis C, nearly 66 of them seemed to have been eligible for treatment, and 22 achieved sustained virological response. More so, only two patients i.e. about 8 percent appear to have relapsed. The study authors also found that after week 24 of treatment, about 35 percent of patients who achieved a sustained virologic response seem to have become virus negative.

Senior author of the study, Kimberly Brown, M.D., Division head of Gastroenterology at Henry Ford Hospital said that, “These results call into question previous studies which suggested ‘stop rules’ at weeks 12 and 24 when there is no response to inferferon and ribravirin. Our results suggest that even if patients are positive at week 24, there is still a 35 percent chance that they can achieve sustained viral clearance. We think this may be beneficial to extend treatment beyond the standard 48 weeks total.”

The study findings revealed that patients who achieved a sustained virological response appear to be more likely to have had extended treatment. Furthermore, prolonging treatment for nearly 52 weeks after patients were virus negative appears to have resulted in a relapse rate of only 8 percent. Apparently, this is in contrast to typical relapse rates of 30 to 35 percent in non transplant patients treated with standard therapy.

The findings of the study have been presented at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases’ Annual Meeting in Boston.