A deadly emerging disease which kills tens of thousands every year could be halted in its tracks after scientists made a discovery in the most unlikely of places—the common trout.
Hepatitis E, which can cause liver failure and will kill one in five pregnant women it infects, has so far resisted attempts by scientists to cure it.
Part of the problem is that the disease is difficult to grow in cell cultures, meaning scientists have been unable to test anti-viral medicines in a laboratory setting.
However, researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey have found a virus, in otherwise healthy fish, which is remarkably similar to Hepatitis E.
The disease, called Cutthroat trout virus, can be cultured more easily and allows scientists to use it as a platform for testing Hepatitis E vaccines.
“It’s great when your initial curiosity about a virus from healthy fish turns out to have important biomedical applications for humans,” said Jim Winton, a USGS research biologist, in a USGS report. “It really shows how hard it is to fully anticipate where basic scientific research might lead.”
The research was published in the journal Antiviral Research, and has already attracted the attention of drug manufacturers.
Hepatitis E is responsible for close to 57,000 deaths per year, and is mostly transmitted to humans through dirty water.
In the UK, it was reported that 85 percent of British pigs also carry the disease, and health researchers have warned consumers to ensure that pork products are cooked thoroughly before served.