In a new study that could help doctors extend the lives of patients awaiting liver transplants, a Rice University-led team of researchers examined the metabolic breakdown that takes place in liver cells during late-stage cirrhosis and found clues that suggest new treatments to delay liver failure.
More than 17,000 Americans are awaiting a liver transplant, and of those, about 1,500 will die this year while still waiting, according to the American Liver Foundation. The new research, which appeared online Feb. 27 in the Journal of Hepatology, suggests new treatments that could keep some of those patients alive long enough to receive a transplant. The research was conducted by a team from Rice University, the University of Pittsburgh, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“There’s an old saying that ‘the beginning of health is to know the disease,’” said lead researcher Deepak Nagrath of Rice. “There’s never been a clear understanding of what causes liver cells to stop working during the final stages of cirrhosis. Our goal was to probe the metabolic processes inside liver cells in this stage of the disease to better understand what causes them to fail.”
Liver disease is a growing problem worldwide, especially in countries where fatty diets and obesity are also problems. According to the American Liver Foundation, one in 10 Americans suffers from liver disease and as many as one in four Americans is at risk, including many who suffer from “nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” a buildup of extra fat in the organ.