Researchers identify new tool to detect fatty liver disease before damage occurs

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14 Sep 2018 --- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) currently affects approximately one in four people, including children, worldwide. But thanks to a team of researchers from Westmead Institute for Medical Research, a new test may soon be available to predict advanced fibrosis in people with NAFLD.

NAFLD – also known as “fatty liver” – occurs when more than five percent of the liver is made up of fatty tissue and it affects people who drink little to no alcohol.

The international research team developed a score, based on the PRO-C3 biological marker, to accurately predict the presence (or absence) of advanced fibrosis in people with NAFLD. The team, led by Professor Jacob George and Associate Professor Mohammed Eslam, from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, the Westmead Hospital and the University of Sydney, found that PRO-C3 progressively increases as fibrosis becomes more severe.

The researchers combined this data with routine clinical information – such as age, the presence of diabetes, and platelet count – to develop a highly accurate tool to detect advanced fibrosis in NAFLD.

The results exceed existing fibrosis scores, accurately identifying 92 percent of patients with advanced fibrosis. Lead researcher, Professor George, said the tool would help to identify patients at highest risk for long-term health outcomes.

“Given the high global prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, we need a non-invasive clinical tool to measure fibrosis accurately,” he says. 

Associate Professor Eslam also adds: “Our tool will help identify advanced fibrosis in patients, which is crucial, as these are the people who are most likely to develop future health complications.”

“If NAFLD and fibrosis are detected and treated early, permanent liver damage and other life-threatening diseases can be avoided,” he notes. 

NAFLD also increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The disease also starts with the build-up of fat in the liver and can lead to scarring in the liver. The scarred organ eventually shrinks and the risks of liver failure and cancer increase.

The study investigated 431 patients from across Australia, the UK and Japan.

Last month, BASF announced its move to target NAFLD with Hepaxa, its first-to-market omega 3 product dedicated to the dietary management of the disease. Hepaxa increases the levels of fatty omega 3 acids in patients, which improves the liver's ability to process fat, according to BASF. You can read more on this here

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