Scientists have discovered how to enhance the production of key cells needed to repair damaged liver tissue, an important step in developing treatment for liver disease.
Liver disease is the fifth biggest killer in the UK, with almost 500 people waiting for a liver transplant. Around 16,000 people in the UK died last year of liver disease, more than twice as many people than 20 years ago.
Now, researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh have taken an important step towards understanding how a diseased liver can repair itself.
When the liver is damaged by conditions such as cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis it produces too many bile duct cells, and not enough cells called hepatocytes. Hepatocytes are used by the liver to repair damaged tissue.
Scientists have now worked out how to stimulate the production of hepatocytes instead of bile duct cells. The production of hepatocyte cells was increased by altering the expression of certain genes in early stage liver cells.
The researchers, writing in the journal Nature Medicine, say their discovery could lead to the development of drugs that perform the same function in patients. This would ease the pressure on waiting lists for liver transplants.
Professor Stuart Forbes, associate director at the MRC and the academic leader of the study, said: "Liver disease is on the increase in the UK and is one of the top five killers. Increasing numbers of patients are in need of liver transplants, but the supply of donated organs is not keeping pace with the demand.
"If we can find ways to encourage the liver to heal itself then we could ease the pressure on waiting lists for liver transplants."
Experts recently warned that that there could be 210,000 preventable deaths from alcohol in England and Wales over the next 20 years, including from liver disease.
To make sure you receive state-of-the-art treatment and the best drugs available if you fall ill, compare health insurance quotes online to be covered on your private medical insurance policy.
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