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Kawerau Hepatitis B study

The issue

In the early 1980s, researchers screened Bay of Plenty town Kawerau for hepatitis B and identified approximately 500 carriers and 1100 controls for these carriers. Serum samples were taken at that time and stored in freezers at the Hepatitis Foundation in Whakatane.

The solution

In 2010, Professor Ed Gane submitted a grant request to the Health Research Council, in collaboration with the Hepatitis Foundation and Massey University, entitled ‘Can better surveillance prevent liver cancer and death in Māori with Chronic HBV?’ Its aim is to assess the long-term outcomes of the carriers vs controls and, using modern lab assays, analyse the original samples for various biomarkers that might be predictive of morbidity and severity of outcome. It also should show whether an inexpensive test is just as good as an expensive one, and whether some types of hepatitis virus are worse than others.


This is renowned as one of the best examples of collaborative research ever done in New Zealand, and it is ongoing. The relationship with the Hepatitis Foundation will ensure that the results, if positive, are rapidly translated into their surveillance programme so that the ‘bad’ types of hepatitis virus are monitored more intensely. This should mean that cases will get detected before they progress to liver cancer and require a transplant. The incidence of liver cancer is much higher in Māori than Pakeha.