Liver Disease Research Round-Up: August 2018

Liver disease affects 3.1 million people living in the United States. The most common causes of liver failure include hepatitis B and C, long-term alcohol consumption, and cirrhosis. Research is investigating better treatments for a variety of liver diseases, as well as the mechanisms in the body that lead to liver disease.

Here are a few of the most recent updates in liver disease research.

Alcohol-related liver disease on the rise in young Americans

Cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcohol abuse is on the rise in younger Americans, according to a new study. The number of 25 to 34-year-olds who died annually from cirrhosis almost tripled between 1999 and 2016.

Doctors believe this trend may be linked to the financial crisis in 2008.

"It correlates with the global financial crisis," Dr. Neehar Parikh, a liver specialist at the University of Michigan Medical School, told NPR. "We hypothesize that there may be a loss of opportunity, and the psychological burden that comes with that may have driven some of those patients to abusive drinking."

After years of heavy drinking, the liver can lose the ability to continue filtering the blood. Unfortunately, for many alcohol-related liver disease patients, the prognosis can be poor.

But doctors also report that stopping drinking can turn a patient around, if it happens soon enough. The researchers advocate for higher taxes on alcohol and other deterrents to heavy consumption, as well.

Link between Alzheimer's and liver disease?

The liver may offer new clues into the mechanisms behind Alzheimer's disease, as well as the possibility of future treatments.

New research discovered that reduced levels of a class of lipids created in the liver called plasmalogens are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. The lipids are critical to cell membranes in the brain.

The body produces fewer plasmalogens as we age. For people with diabetes or obesity, the liver also has to work harder to break down fatty acids, and reduce the body's ability to create plasmalogens, too.

For researchers, the link between liver health, obesity, and diabetes opens an interesting pathway to better understand the connection between these conditions and Alzheimer's disease.

Clue to the cause of fatty liver disease discovered

Researchers have discovered a potential key to the cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

There are a few different types of RNA in the body. Coding RNA carries genetic information copied from DNA in cells. This study investigated a specific kind of RNA that doesn’t appear to encode any specific proteins. Researchers identified one type of this RNA called Blnc1, and saw that it increases fat accumulation in the liver and makes fatty liver disease worse.

The researchers then edited the genes of a mouse to delete the gene that makes Blnc1. They fed normal mice and the gene-edited mice a fatty diet. The normal mice became obese and developed fatty liver disease, but the gene-edited mice did not.

The results suggest that Blnc1 plays a key role not only in the regulation of sugar to fat, but also influences liver cell health and how that progresses to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

There are 1,444 liver disease clinical trials looking for volunteers to take part. Find one that may be a match for you by searching below.