Research Could Lead to Non-Invasive Treatment for Liver Disease

Falls Church, VA – (March 5, 2009) — A new, long-term study by researchers at the Center for Liver Diseases at Inova Fairfax Hospital finds that risk for liver-related death in patients with obesity-related nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is significant.

The study, published in the February 2009 issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, provides the longest follow-up to date of patients with biopsy-proven NAFLD.

Nila Rafiq, M.D., Research Fellow, Center for Liver Diseases, Inova Fairfax Hospital, stated that the study also supports previous Inova research finding that only patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) progress to chronic liver disease. These findings suggest that only patients with a subtype of NAFLD whose liver biopsies show fat and evidence for liver cell injury can progress to cirrhosis and liver deaths.

Zobair Younossi, MD, Executive Director, Center for Liver Diseases, and Executive Director of Research, Inova Health System, stated that a number of metabolic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, cause a number of cardiovascular diseases as well as NAFLD, which is increasingly being recognized as one of the most common forms of liver disease worldwide.

“As the epidemic of obesity and diabetes continue to rise, we expect an increasing number of patients with this type of obesity-related liver disease. In fact, recent data suggest that this disease can affect children and younger patients, which can further exacerbate the problem,” said Dr. Younossi. “Although currently there is no effective treatment for this disease, a number of investigators are working intensely to develop ways to treat it.”

Dr. Younossi and other Inova researchers are currently investigating the development of one of the first serum-based biomarkers for diagnosing this type of obesity-related liver disease. A vital part of the team’s research involves using genomics and proteomics technologies to understand the underlying mechanism of this disease.

“If we can develop a fully validated diagnostic biomarker for this disease, a large number of patients could be diagnosed without resorting to invasive and costly tests, such as a liver biopsy. These non-invasive biomarkers could identify patients early, while reducing the cost and morbidity associated with a liver biopsy,” Dr. Younossi added.

For over a decade, Dr. Younossi and his research team have pioneered research related to obesity and associated liver disease. Inova’s research in this area has gained international recognition for its contribution to the scientific community.

Inova Health System is a not-for-profit healthcare system based in Northern Virginia that consists of hospitals and other health services, including emergency- and urgent-care centers, home care, nursing homes, mental health and blood donor services, and wellness classes. Governed by a voluntary board of community members, Inova’s mission is to improve the health of the diverse community it serves through excellence in patient care, education and research. Inova provides a healthy environment for its patients, families, visitors, staff and physicians by prohibiting tobacco use on its campuses.

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