A vaccine to protect against hepatitis C could be in sight, according to British researchers who had promising results from the first human trials.

Oxford University scientists said Thursday that a vaccine similar to the common cold virus was effective in fighting the infectious disease, which leads to swelling and scarring of the liver.

While researchers stressed that the new hepatitis C vaccine was in its early stages, initial trial results proved positive, and a U.S. team now plans to carry out a larger trial of the vaccine in at-risk groups.

Participants in the UK trial experienced the same response as the small minority of people who have a natural immunity to the disease.

"We've found that it's possible to prime large cellular immune responses against hepatitis C that last for at least a year," senior researcher Prof. Paul Klenerman said. "The immune responses we've seen are exciting, and we are beginning the next stage of trials."

Hepatitis C sufferers can currently be treated for the chronic liver disease, but not everyone responds well to the treatment.

Around 170 million people worldwide suffer from hepatitis C, though many people do not know they are infected because they do not show any symptoms.

The disease, which constantly alters its makeup, is carried in the blood and most commonly contracted through needle-sharing.

Actress Pamela Anderson revealed in 2002 that she had contracted the disease from sharing a tattoo needle with her former husband, rock musician Tommy Lee.

The Oxford University study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.