Can better genes help drinkers beat liver disease?

LEADING liver experts in the North East are set to undertake research to see if there is a genetic link in alcoholic liver disease.

Professor Chris Day, Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Medical Sciences of Newcastle University
Professor Chris Day, Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Medical Sciences of Newcastle University

LEADING liver experts in the North East are set to undertake research to see if there is a genetic link in alcoholic liver disease.

Scientists at Newcastle University are taking part in an international study to focus on ways to better diagnose and treat the condition.

The team will collect blood samples from 300 North East patients at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Plummer Court Drug and Alcohol Addiction Unit in Newcastle.

They will analyse their findings alongside colleagues in Australia, USA, Germany, Switzerland and France.

Professor Chris Day, liver expert at Newcastle University and within Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is leading the North East team.

He said: “The North East has the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England and high rates of young people drinking.

“We’ve been chosen to run this study here in the North East as we are recognised world-wide for our expertise in this field. This is an important study which will really help our understanding of why some people get cirrhosis and some don’t.

“We haven’t yet been able to explain why some are affected yet others who drink an equal amount aren’t, and this study is essential to explain that.”

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that 469 people died in the region in 2010 due to alcohol, up from 170 in 1991 – a leap of 183%.

It means that every 18 hours, one person dies in the North East from alcohol-related illnesses.

The region also has the highest rate of alcohol-related hospital admissions in England. Half the recruits for the study will have cirrhosis of the liver and the other half, the control group, will have been heavy drinkers for 10 years but be free of liver disease.

The £1.7m international one-year study has received funding and backing from the US Government.

While cirrhosis has been predominantly seen among men over 50 years of age, it is becoming more frequent worldwide among younger adults and young women. It is the leading cause of alcohol-related death and contributes to 50% of the total burden of liver disease and to 15% of liver transplants.

Prof Day, who is pro-vice chancellor for the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University, said: “Apart from alcohol consumption, several contributory factors, including diet, lifestyle, mental health, viral infection and gender, influence the risk of developing cirrhosis.

“There is also evidence that genes influence the development and progression of this disease.

“We hope that by analysing the genes in a large international group comprising thousands of drinkers we can detect the genetic risks that predispose some drinkers to get alcoholic liver cirrhosis.”

Alcoholic liver cirrhosis is controlled by a number of genes, each of which makes a small overall contribution. Previous genetic studies have been inconclusive as the studies performed have been too small to establish definitive results.

 

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