A pioneering European research project aims to lead to new diagnostic tests to assess patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and identify those most at risk for developing severe inflammation and liver scarring.
Liver Investigation: Testing Marker Utility in Steatohepatitis (LITMUS) funded by the European Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking, brings together clinicians and scientists from prominent academic centres across Europe with companies from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). Their common goals are developing, validating and qualifying better biomarkers for testing NAFLD.
The €34 million project is co-ordinated by Newcastle University, working closely with the lead EFPIA partner, Pfizer Ltd. LITMUS will include 47 international research partners based at leading international universities and some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.
Affecting 20 – 30 % of the population worldwide, NAFLD is caused by a build-up of fat in the liver cells, which leads to inflammation, scarring of the liver and ultimately cirrhosis. It is strongly linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Although many people have NAFLD, less than one in 10 will come to harm as a result1. The challenge is to identify those people that will be most severely affected and are going to progress to liver cirrhosis or cancer so that appropriate care can be provided earlier. At present this requires a liver biopsy, which can only be done in specialist hospitals, so there is a need for better diagnostic tools.
Professor Quentin Anstee, from Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine and Consultant Hepatologist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is co-ordinating the LITMUS consortium.
He said: “Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is already the most common underlying cause of liver transplant in the USA and, with the obesity epidemic in Europe, we are very close behind.