Australian researchers are studying the link between Hepatitis C and the development of diabetes and they have made an unexpected discovery. Initially, the increase risk of type 2 diabetes was thought to be associated with fat build-up in the liver caused by Hepatitis C but tests on people with blood-borne virus was something different.

In a study of 29 participants who had high insulin resistance a precursor to diabetes, by the Garvan Instituted of Medical Research found that the problem was rooted in the muscles and not the livers.

The result was unexpected, says Professor Don Chisholm. He says that no significant insulin resistance was found in the liver of the participants and half of the total number suffered from a strain of Hepatitis C that triggers accumulation of three times the normal level of fat in the liver.

Researchers from around the world argue that the fat in the liver is the most vital indicator of insulin resistance. In the context of the study, this was not proven the case.

Hepatitis C most common strains - Genotype 3 causes significant fat deposits in the liver. In the study, participants with this strain had the same level of insulin resistance as those with no fat accumulation in the liver.

According to Professor Chrisholm, liver and muscle are the most important organs that respond to insulin. High blood sugar level occurs when an insulin-resistant liver produce unwanted glucose and insulin-resistant muscle is not able to absorb it from the blood.

To better understand the behavior of the disease, more in-depth work is needed to find out why Hepatitis C triggers insulin resistance in the muscle.

In Australia, Hepatitis C is transmitted mainly by drug users through the sharing of needles and also by non-hygienic tattooing or body piercing. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C to date. A total of 212,000 Australians have chronic Hepatitis C, and every year there are around 10,000 new infections.

The research was conducted by Professor Chrisholm with Dr Kerry Lee Milner from Garvan Institute, in collaboration with Professor Jacob George from University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital. Their findings were published in the Gastroenterology journal.