August 10, 2009

Blueberry leaves may kill hepatitis C

Japanese scientists say they've discovered a chemical found in blueberry leaves can help block the replication of the hepatitis C virus.

The researchers, led by Hiroaki Kataoka and colleagues at the University of Miyazaki, said the discovery opens a new avenue for treating chronic hepatitis C infections. Currently, there is no vaccine for HCV, and although a combination drug regimen can clear HCV infection, the scientists said that treatment is only about 60 percent effective and poses risks of severe side effects.

Kataoka and colleagues screened nearly 300 different agricultural products for potential compounds that suppress HCV replication and uncovered a strong candidate in the leaves of rabbit-eye blueberry -- a plant native to the southeastern United States.

They purified the compound and identified it as proanthocyandin -- a polyphenol similar to the beneficial chemicals found in grapes and wine. While proanthocyandin can be harmful, Kataoka and colleagues noted its effective concentration against HCV was 100 times less than the toxic threshold, and similar chemicals are found in many edible plants, suggesting it should be safe as a dietary supplement.

The scientists said they now will explore the detailed mechanisms of how this chemical stops HCV replication.

The research appears in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.