The Univeristy of Melbourne The Royal Melbourne Hopspital

A joint venture between The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital

Viral hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver caused by infection by one of several viruses designated hepatitis A-E. 

Hepatitis A and E are transmitted through contaminated food and water. Hepatitis B, C and D are blood-borne viruses, and can also be transmitted from mother to child at the time of birth (especially hepatitis B), and also through sexual contact. All these viruses can cause acute hepatitis. Hepatitis B and C viruses can cause chronic infections, which may eventually lead to liver scarring (fibrosis and cirrhosis) and liver cancer. 

The global burden

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 400 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B or C virus and 1.4 million people die each year from the various forms of viral hepatitis. Approximately 450,000 Australians are living with chronic viral hepatitis.

The Doherty Institute's expertise

Viral hepatitis is a major focus for the Doherty Institute, with a broad spectrum of activity conducted on the viruses from basic science to clinical care and public health.

The Doherty Institute is home to the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis, one of only five Centres in the world designated to:

  • Conduct surveillance, treatment and prevention activities
  • Develop policy 
  • Assist the WHO to implement its Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis

The Doherty Institute also houses the WHO Regional Reference Laboratory for Hepatitis B (Western Pacific Region), which is responsible for laboratory, technical, research and training support to countries in the region, as well as serving as a resource on hepatitis B diagnostics and surveillance.

The Doherty Institute provides numerous diagnostic and specialised molecular tests for detection of various markers of infection for all forms of viral hepatitis (A-E). Investigating viral characteristics associated with drug resistance, vaccine escape, and adverse disease outcomes is a strong research focus. In addition, the Doherty Institute undertakes extensive research in the area of viral hepatitis and HIV co-infection, examining factors associated with disease progression and responses to antiviral treatment.

The Doherty Institute’s epidemiology team conducts research relating to the prevalence and burden of chronic viral hepatitis locally, nationally and globally, and helps guide public health responses to reduce the impact of viral hepatitis. Physicians and specialist nurses provide a range of clinical services for people living with viral hepatitis, including providing treatment and care in hepatitis clinics at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and also outreach services to community settings across Victoria and interstate. They also provide capacity building in community health services and private general practices, and through involvement in clinical trials and other research projects.

WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis (WHOCCVH)

The WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis (the Centre), Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) was designated on 1 June 2015 as one of only five Collaborating Centres for Viral Hepatitis globally. The Centre performs a broad range of activities supporting national and global control of viral hepatitis, including basic research and reference virology, surveillance, treatment and prevention initiatives, and training and regional capacity building. In addition, the Centre is active in public health policy development and assists the WHO in implementing the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis.

In conjunction with the designation as a WHO Regional Reference Laboratory for Hepatitis B in 2010, the Centre assists the WHO and Western Pacific Regional Office for the WHO (WPRO) with advice and support for approaches to the prevention and management of viral hepatitis, and provides reference testing for samples collected as part of national serosurveys conducted across the Western Pacific Region. The Centre also enables VIDRL and the Doherty Institute to extend the scope and geographic reach of their research, training and regional capacity building activities related to viral hepatitis in collaboration with the WHO, other WHO Collaborating Centres and research partners to support the global agenda for viral hepatitis control.

As one of only five designated Collaborating Centres for Viral Hepatitis located around the world, including the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, the new Centre will be based within the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s (RMH) Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) at the Doherty Institute and will work across a range of activities including surveillance, treatment and prevention initiatives. In addition, it will also develop policy and assist the WHO to implement its Global Health Sector Strategy on the virus.

The WHO designation enables the Doherty Institute to integrate its existing viral hepatitis programs into the global research arena. Working in collaboration with the WHO and other member states, the program at the Doherty Institute focused on disease pathogenesis; diagnostics; prevention and evaluation of patterns of disease; and treatment responses on a global scale.