New York, NY–Three neighboring New York City medical institutions–The
Rockefeller University, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and Weill
Medical College of Cornell University–have jointly established
the Center for the Study of Hepatitis C, the first major center
in the Northeast region devoted specifically to the disease. Renowned
virologist Charles M. Rice, Ph.D., who recently made the first
infectious clone of the virus, will join The Rockefeller University
faculty and serve as both scientific and executive director of
the multi-institutional center.
The center’s unique strength will lie in its interdisciplinary
approach to investigating the hepatitis C virus (HCV), combining
basic research in molecular and cellular biology with clinical
studies. The collaborative effort will be driven by leading researchers
and clinicians at three prominent institutions, which, as Manhattan
neighbors, form one of the world’s great medical complexes.
The center will have the ability to investigate both the virus’s
basic scientific and clinical manifestations as well as the means
to develop potential treatments and offer them to HCV
Charles Rice , Ph.D.
Dr. Rice, who will hold the Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg
Chair in Virology and serve as Head of the Laboratory for Virology
and Infectious Disease at Rockefeller University, will be joined
by Ira Jacobson, M.D., an authority on liver disease, who will
serve as the center's first medical director. Dr. Jacobson is
professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell and chief of the
division of gastroenterology and hepatology, and attending physician
at the Weill Cornell Medical Center of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
The Center for the Study of Hepatitis C will be funded by a grant
from the Greenberg Medical Research Foundation, which is chaired
by Maurice R. Greenberg, chairman and CEO of American International
Group, Inc. (AIG). "The current understanding of the Hepatitis
C virus is poor," says Mr. Greenberg. "By bringing together world-renowned
scientists, this unique New York City center can improve the lives
of millions of infected people through basic research and clinical
care." Mr. Greenberg is former chairman of the board of New York
Hospital, chairman emeritus of the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital,
and a trustee of The Rockefeller University.
"The incidence of hepatitis C-associated disease is rising at
an alarming rate that is emerging as a serious threat to public
health," says Rockefeller President Arnold J. Levine, Ph.D.
"We think a large-scale effort must be implemented now to
avoid grave consequences in the 21st century. The Greenberg Foundation's
visionary leadership to fight hepatitis C captures the spirit
of philanthropy, which increasingly focuses on the intellectual
treasures of New York City — its academic centers."
Herbert Pardes, M.D., president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian
Hospital, and Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., M.D., dean of Weill Cornell
Medical College, echo Dr. Levine's enthusiasm for the joint venture.
Observes Dr. Pardes: "This is a superb example of the real progress
that can be made from a true collaboration among three world-class
institutions with the human and material resources to combat the
disease at the level of both basic science and clinical treatment.
We should do more of this."
Dr. Gotto adds, "Dr. Rice will be able to rely on all three institutions'
leading researchers and clinicians; count on our outstanding laboratories
and patient facilities; and draw on a broad patient base made
possible by our joint venture. Our combined basic and clinical
research resources will also allow us to work with leading pharmaceutical
and biotechnology companies to develop and test effective therapies
Dr. Levine also foresees the center collaborating with private
companies to develop and test drugs that will disrupt HCV's life
cycle. "Given the density of population in the New York area,
a significant number of hepatitis C carriers live in proximity
to one or more of our three institutions," he says. "This will
greatly aid our researchers in recruiting people for various studies,
and many patients will welcome the chance to participate in these
Dr. Levine emphasizes that access to a large and diverse pool
of patients will enable scientists to study the natural history
of HCV in a significant population. "Development of a patient
registry or epidemiology program," he notes, "will help Dr. Rice
and researchers learn the mechanism of chronic infection and whether
there is any underlying genetic component that helps some people
resist the disease. The diversity of patients will also permit
a detailed study of HCV carriers with a variety of symptoms, such
as Sjogren's syndrome, glomerulonephritis, and other autoimmune
Dr. Jacobson adds, "We are very excited by the arrival of
Dr. Rice. His presence, along with that of his co-workers, will
provide the scientific foundation for a highly integrated, collaborative
effort to address the major issues in this field, including HCV’s
natural history, pathogenesis, and therapy. The clinical facility
will have expanded capacity for patient care and clinical trials,
data storage, and serum and tissue banking."
The new center also involves several noted physician-scientists
at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center of NewYork-Presbyterian
Hospital and the Columbia University College of Physicians and
Surgeons (P&S), including Jean Emond, M.D.,
and Robert Brown, M.D., M.P.H., surgical and medical directors,
respectively, of the Center for Liver Transplantation at New York-Presbyterian.
Charles Rice joins The Rockefeller University from Washington
University in St. Louis, where he has been one of the world's
most accomplished virologists and a prominent figure in research
"Under the guidance of Dr. Rice, we will start finding answers
to the critical questions about HCV," Dr. Levine says. "We will
see progress in developing therapies for hepatitis C only through
a basic molecular understanding of the virus's growth mechanisms
and the interplay of its life cycle with physiological and immune
factors of the host. It is also clear that there is an urgent
need for cell culture and other models in which to study these
problems. Dr. Rice will be instrumental in unraveling the mechanisms
of HCV and in developing the new models by which to study it."
"There are many things that led me to make this move," Dr. Rice
says. "I was attracted not only by the reputation of Rockefeller
University with its terrific scientists, but also the opportunity
to start this special center for hepatitis C research. The basic
science will be anchored at Rockefeller, but we will be able to
catalyze extensive interactions among physicians and patients
at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and with researchers at Weill
Cornell Medical College."
Since 1995, Dr. Rice has served as a professor in the department
of molecular microbiology at Washington University's School of
Medicine. He first joined the department as an assistant professor
in 1986. Rice attended the University of California-Davis as an
undergraduate, receiving a BS in zoology in 1974. He went on to
do graduate work at the California Institute of Technology, earning
a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1981, and then was a postdoctoral research
fellow at the Institute from 1981 to 1985. In 1997, Rice led a
research team that demonstrated for the first time that HCV alone
is sufficient to cause the disease, a revelation that should help
scientists determine the best strategy for developing an effective
"The appointment of Dr. Rice as professor re-establishes Rockefeller's
preeminence in the field of virology," Dr. Levine adds. "While
his leadership at the hepatitis center will benefit the entire
New York area and the field of hepatitis research, his presence
on the Rockefeller campus and interaction with other Rockefeller
scientists will lend itself to innovative approaches to fighting
Rice's study of the virus will greatly benefit, in turn, from
collaboration with Rockefeller colleagues working in areas outside
virology. For example, Rockefeller scientists adept in X-ray crystallography
and other structural biology techniques will help determine the
structure of the virus's proteins, which will aid in designing
a drug that could hinder their normal function. Other researchers
specializing in replication will shed light on how the virus makes
copies of itself. And, given the similarities between HCV and
the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), work done by Rockefeller
Professor David D. Ho, M.D., the noted AIDS researcher and scientific
director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, should increase
understanding of hepatitis C and suggest effective ways to fight
or prevent it. Ho helped to develop the so-called AIDS cocktail
of therapeutic drugs through studies done at The Rockefeller University
The Hepatitis C Virus
Some four million people in the United States are infected with
HCV, and about 30,000 new acute infections occur every year. HCV
is responsible for 8,000 to 10,000 deaths per year in the United
States. Liver failure due to hepatitis C is the leading cause
of liver transplants in the United States, and about 25 percent
of liver cancer cases in the country are associated with HCV.
Although about 85 percent of those who are infected develop chronic
infection, the virus usually remains undetected for years, or
even decades, until it causes advanced liver disease.
on the image below to see the animated version.
Researchers know that hepatitis C has genetic variations that
result in different structures of the viral proteins, but they
do not understand yet how these variations determine the virus's
effect on the liver cells of the person carrying it. Scientists
need a clearer picture of how hepatitis C virus replicates and
interacts with the host’s immune system in order to understand
how it causes liver injury and progressive liver disease.