Researchers at Cardiff University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute have developed a new method of predicting the risk of developing a severe form of fatty liver disease. The team hopes to use this new method to develop a non-invasive blood test for non-alcoholic for liver disease.
The test would offers doctors a simple way of accurately identifying the onset of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Early detection of NASH is essential. If allowed to progress, the disease can lead to liver failure. It is hoped that a new and simple blood test will be developed that will result in much faster detection of NASH and will significantly improve detection rates and patient outcomes.
In the United Kingdom, approximately 5% of the population develops the disease, although the NHS estimates as many as one in three people have small amounts of fat in the liver and will develop early stage NASH. In most cases, the condition will not progress past the first stage. However, progression leads to cirrhosis – bumps form on the liver and liver function is severely impaired.
The condition may be suspected if abnormal results are returned from blood liver function tests, although typically an ultrasound is required and a biopsy to confirm the stage of the disease.
While there is no specific medication that can be used to treat the condition, it is possible to prevent deterioration by making lifestyle changes, although for that to happen the condition must first be diagnosed. Unfortunately, as Dr You Zhou – one of the Cardiff University Systems Immunity Research Institute researchers – explained, “Many people with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis do not have symptoms and are not aware they are developing a serious liver problem.” A diagnosis is often only made after a patient is experiencing symptoms of the disease, by which point permanent damage may have been caused to the liver.
A new blood test would offer doctors a quick and easy way to confirm whether a patient has progressed from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. This would allow the patient to rapidly start an appropriate treatment program and halt the progression of the disease.
The new method of detection is still undergoing testing. The researchers expect to be able to develop a simple blood test for non-alcoholic for liver disease that can be used by clinicians.