One of the most underappreciated organs in the body is the liver. Most people don’t even know its true function. This football-sized organ sits on the right side of the abdomen and is essential for getting rid of toxic substances in the body. Also, it plays a role in the conversion of cholesterol, production of anticoagulants, and the creation of digestive enzymes. All of these traits are important for maintaining optimal human function. Disease of this vital organ is considered the 12th leading cause of death in America. Fortunately, new research has identified a protein involved that could inspire new treatments.
Problems caused by liver disease
Liver disease can be the result of many different things. These include genetic causes, alcohol abuse, and viral infections. Obesity is also associated with liver damage. Liver disease can be caused by a variety of factors that affect children and adults. Liver damage leads to scarring (cirrhosis), which interferes with its function, possibly leading to liver failure. The following are signs and symptoms of liver disease:
- Jaundice—yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling of the legs and ankles
- Itchy skin
- Dark urine
- Pale colored stool
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Easy bruising
Building on previous research, a team of scientists from Sydney’s Westmead Institute for Medical Research have found a protein that is directly responsive for liver scarring. They used a state of the art genetic and functional analysis of liver samples from 2,000 patients with hepatitis C. It was found that specific variations in a protein called interferon lambda 3 (IFNL3) were the culprit.
New hope for liver disease treatment
The identification of this protein will allow medical professionals to better predict the risk of liver disease. This may lead to earlier intervention and lifestyle changes.
“This discovery holds great promise for the development of effective therapeutic treatments for liver disease. There is an urgent need for a safe pharmacologic therapy that can prevent of regress the progression of liver damage. There are currently no treatments available for patients with advanced fibrosis[scarring], and liver transplantation is the only treatment for liver failure,” said author doctor Mohammed Eslam.
The researchers are optimistic that this new form of “precision” medicine will help patients receive individually tailored treatments depending on their genetic makeup. The gene responsible could be the focus of therapy in liver disease patients. It may even affect scarring in other organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
Related: What are the early signs of liver damage?