Long Range Implications of Research
Welcome to another edition of Riding in Cars With Researchers! I am Dr. Jeff Kingsley and today we are going to talk about the long range implications of research. The implications are further reaching than one would think.
Let’s talk about Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C used to be virtually incurable. People who had Hepatitis C would typically have it the rest of their lives. There was a therapy that was really rough to take. Pegylated interferon and ribavirin was an injectable. These drugs were tough and patients would take them for half a year and they would get low white blood cell count and be at risk for infection, they would get low platelet counts, and depression. These were rough drugs to take. If you were strong enough to even go through the therapy, after the six months of taking it, there was only about a 30% likelihood that it worked. A 70% likelihood that after you went through all of that for six months, you still had Hepatitis C. This was the treatment just as recently as 10 years ago.
So we did a ton of research when we suddenly began having breakthroughs in how to treat Hepatitis C. Today we have therapies that are easy to take, taken orally so no need for injections and patients don’t end up with low blood cell counts, low platelets, depression and suicidal thoughts. At the end of just 12 weeks of therapy, there is a 95% chance of successfully curing the Hepatitis C. That is a dramatic difference from where we were just a few years ago.
The Ripple Effect
Why are we discussing this? Not only was the Hepatitis C research a lot of fun but it was completely game-changing for the treatment of patients, thus being dramatically impactful on these patients lives. It was the ripple effect that is so important to mention. Hepatitis C patients are not allowed to be organ donors. Why? Because Hepatitis C was virtually incurable just a short while ago, so they could not be organ donors. We currently have a drug abuse epidemic in the US. We have a lot of patients that die from their drug abuse. Today, their families cannot donate their organs, nor can the deceased choose to donate their organs prior to death. But Hepatitis C is no longer the disease that it once was because of the therapies we created several years ago.
Physicians at Toronto Medical Hospital just published research a few days ago about a research trial where they took patients in need of a lung transplant. These patients were going to die from their lung disease, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, where the lung is filling with scar tissue. They took these patients with these fatal lung diseases and transplanted them with Hepatitis C positive donor lungs. They bathed the lungs in antiviral solutions and within days of the transplant put the patient on these new therapies in the treatment of Hepatitis C. Now we have all these patients who have lungs that were translated into them and they don’t have Hepatitis C. There’s the ripple effect. Research that we did so many years ago has now given us the ability to increase the number of successful organ transplants due to the ripple effect of the research we did years ago. This is something I never saw coming. When we did the research, we were excited about one thing, and one thing alone – the ability to cure Hepatitis C. And now, that very same research is improving the success of organ transplants. Unintended consequences…the ripple effect.
I love research. I find it fascinating and it truly changes the world. Get involved! Remember how fantastic research is and consider a career in it!
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