Cardiff University developing liquid biopsy for NASH

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis--Courtesy of Michael Bonert CC BY-SA 3.0

Patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or fatty liver disease, often don’t realize they have a liver problem and are diagnosed once inflammation and scarring has already occurred. Cardiff University researchers are developing a liquid biopsy to noninvasively test for NASH earlier and catch it before it progresses.

NASH is the most serious form of nonalcoholic liver disease, which spans a number of conditions caused by the accumulation of fat in the liver. Some people can have fat in their liver without inflammation, but others can develop scarring and cirrhosis, which could lead to the organ not being able to work properly. Invasive liver biopsy is the only way to diagnose NASH.

“Many people with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis do not have symptoms and are not aware they are developing a serious liver problem,” said Dr. You Zhou of Cardiff University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute, in a statement. “As such, diagnosis often comes after irreversible damage is done. Our quicker and less invasive method of diagnosis could mean that more people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease could be easily tested to determine whether they are progressing to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, the more severe form of the disease.”

Zhou’s team is working on a blood test to detect NASH early on. In a study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the Cardiff team used mass spectrometry to measure the levels of lipids and other metabolites in blood samples from 318 patients who had also undergone liver biopsy. They found that a combined approach diagnosed NASH with “significantly higher accuracy” than mass spectrometry or liver biopsy alone.

Other players working on diagnostic alternatives for NASH include Israel’s Exalenz, which is developing a breath test that could diagnose and monitor NASH.