I really must apologize for my absence. I got quite absorbed with my writing course and then I got busy with other things. I do feel motivated to blog again so I hope to get back in the swing of it all.
I had the great fortune to attend the 7th Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference in Melbourne in September. This is a very important event, held every two years, and attracts speakers from around the world.
The big challenge for me was in deciding which presentations to attend. There were quite a few talks about Hepatitis C transmission among injecting drug users. As I work in a Needle Syringe Program, those were relevant to my work. Then there were sessions about living with Hepatitis and treatment. These were interesting to me as a peer-support worker, especially on the website http://hepcaustralasia.org.
This conference is about viral hepatitis, not hep C specifically, so there were quite a few presentations about Hepatitis B. At first when I was planning which sessions to attend I was relieved about that because I don't have a strong interest in Hep B and I thought it would make my decisions easier. However there was an introductory seminar on Hep B even before the main conference began and I was attracted to a session with a Hep B positive speaker.
I always find positive speakers the most powerful of presentations. It is easier for me to learn and remember when it is being told from a personal perspective, and I find Hep B much more confusing that Hep C is. I went and listened to a woman, Yvonne, talk about her experience with Hepatitis B and suddenly I wanted to attend the Hep B sessions as well.
The final area was Basic Science. There were a few that caught my eye before the conference started but not that many. However once I started to listen I realized that was the most interesting to me.
Dr Scott Friedman from New York was an invited speaker and he spoke in the opening plenary about his work with liver fibrosis. His research has uncovered the cells responsible and he is working on anti-fibrotic drugs. This was all new to me. My focus was at first on treatment, on getting rid of the virus. When my own treatment failed I turned my focus to self management, how to live with the virus with an improved quality of life. For many people however, reducing fibrosis is the goal, as cirrhosis itself is a great issue with hepatitis. Dr Friedman had a clear way of speaking that made it all very interesting and relatively easy to follow, even for a non-medical person like me.
I then discovered in the science stream many presentations about host genetics as a predictor of treatment response. This is a new area of research, due to the discovery of genetic factors and the ability to test for them. Speaker after speaker revealed their research and I was fascinated.
At the end of the conference I had a renewed interest in my work in the hepatitis field. I met a lot of people there too and made new contacts. I also caught up with many people I have worked with already, in particular the people I met through my work with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. In fact before I went I hadn't anticipated the number of familiar faces I'd see.
The next conference is in Auckland in 2012. I'm eagerly anticipating getting to it and learning about the latest research. Dare I be bold and anticipate that we will have some new treatment drugs approved and some improved SVR rates to report by then?