Immunity Is a Matter of Timing

Diana Kwon in Nautilus:

Jane McKeating never expected time to matter much in the liver.

About a decade ago, McKeating was examining medications to use during liver transplantation in patients with chronic hepatitis C infections. Hepatitis C can linger in the body for decades and cause severe liver damage—and in those days, the lack of drugs to combat the viral infection meant that when a patient received a replacement liver, the virus could immediately infect the new organ. McKeating, then a virologist at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and her colleagues wanted to see whether an antiviral drug could stop the virus’ spread and save the new livers.

When the team initially assessed their data, they were stumped. It looked like the drug prevented infection in some patients, but not others—and it wasn’t clear what, exactly, was behind this difference. “We just couldn’t understand what was discriminating between the patients,” says McKeatin, now at the University of Oxford. After much head scratching, they noticed a perplexing pattern: Patients who received their liver transplants in the morning were more likely to be reinfected with the hepatitis C virus than those who had their operations in the afternoon.1 “It turned out it was the time of day when they received the liver transplant,” she says.

More here.