A University of Queensland researcher is working to halt the progress of chronic liver disease, which affects a quarter of million Australians.
There is currently no effective treatment for halting the progress of chronic liver disease in the 50% of people who fail anti-viral therapy.
A liver transplant may be the only treatment for the 15 to 20% of these sufferers that progress to end stage liver disease, but these people are faced with the lack of donor organs.
Dr Julie Jonsson is a member of the Liver Research Group based at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, and has found a protein molecule known as angiotensin, which may be a key to stopping progression of the disease.
“High levels of production of angiotensin are associated with increased liver damage,” Dr Jonsson said.
“With a better understanding of how angiotensin influences this damage, drugs can be developed to target this process.”
She said the need for new treatments was becoming critical due to a predicted increase in the frequency of the disease.
Obesity is linked to fatty liver disease and recent dramatic increases in obesity are expected to cause a corresponding rise in chronic liver disease Dr Jonsson said.
“Those in the advanced stages with cirrhosis, may require a liver transplant,” she said.
“It is estimated by the year 2020 more than 2000 Queenslanders will require a liver transplant.
“However, only about 50 donor organs are available each year so there is a desperate need for therapeutic treatments that will delay or reverse the progression of the disease.”
She said one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease is infection with the hepatitis C virus. Other causes include alcohol and immune, metabolic or genetic disorders.
“The limited treatments available include advising patients to avoid alcohol,” Dr Jonsson said.
“Work from our group has also suggested that losing weight may be helpful, regardless of the cause of the liver disease.”