[ASC-media] Why do some heavy drinkers get liver cirrhosis and some don’t?

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Mon Mar 12 01:57:18 CET 2012

Why do some heavy drinkers get liver cirrhosis and some don’t?
8 March 2012

The US government is investing $2.5 million in a Sydney-based study to determine the role of genetics in alcoholic liver disease.

The study, announced today, should lead to better diagnosis and treatment of the condition – a silent epidemic that costs $3.8 billion a year in Australia alone.

“We still do not understand why only a proportion of moderate to heavy drinkers get liver cirrhosis,” says Dr Devanshi Seth, from the Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital’s Drug Health Services and the Centenary Institute who conceived and now leads the project.

“Nothing so far has been able to explain the unpredictability of why some people get cirrhosis and others who drink equal amounts don’t,” she says.

She and her colleagues will soon start testing the genes of hundreds of Sydney-siders and thousands of others in six countries with the support of the grant from the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Apart from alcohol consumption, several contributory factors, including diet, lifestyle, mental health, viral infection and gender, influence the risk of developing cirrhosis,” Dr Seth says. There is 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.”

Like other multi-factorial diseases, alcoholic liver cirrhosis is controlled by a number of genes, each of which makes a small overall contribution. Previous genetic searches have been inconclusive because the studies performed to date have generally been too small to yield definitive results.

“The lack of specific markers for diagnosis and effective treatment compound the burden of the disease. That is why this research is so important,” says Dr Seth. “The results will help us identify and treat the people most at risk from drinking.”

While the disease has been predominantly seen among men over 50 years of age, it is becoming more frequent worldwide among younger adults and young women.

“This study is an important addition to Centenary’s liver research effort,” says Professor Mathew Vadas
Executive Director of the Centenary Institute.

“Alcoholic liver disease 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,” he says.

Dr Seth leads several other projects on alcoholic liver disease in collaboration with Professors Haber and Geoff McCaughan at the RPA and Centenary Institute.

Their group is one of few groups comprehensively addressing issues related to alcohol, ranging from genetics, to clinical, biomedical, molecular, mental health co-morbidities through to treatment approaches.

“We frequently look at the social costs to the community, such as violence and vehicle accidents, but we are not looking enough at the direct damage to the drinkers themselves.  Health problems related to alcohol, especially chronic effects, are often overlooked because alcohol is so culturally embedded in our society,” says Dr Seth

Dr Seth formed the GenomALC Consortium to conduct this large study with Australian colleagues as well as clinicians and researchers from the USA, UK, Germany, Switzerland and France.

“In Sydney, we will recruit hundreds of participants over the next three years through the clinics at four hospitals – Royal Prince Alfred, Liverpool, Concord and Fairfield. Half our group will have cirrhosis and the other half, the control group, will have been heavy drinkers for 10 years but be free of liver disease.”

A pilot feasibility study for recruitment at these hospitals has already been undertaken through funding from Lion Nathan’s Alcohol Health and Research Grant Scheme.

More at http://www.centenarynews.org.au<http://www.centenarynews.org.au/>.

For interviews contact:

§  Sydney Local Health District Media Unit, Tel 9515 9607  A/Hours 0409 243 544, email sydneymedia at sswahs.nsw.gov.au<mailto:sydneymedia at sswahs.nsw.gov.au>;

§  Suzie Graham, 0418 683-166, s.graham at centenary.org.au<mailto:s.graham at centenary.org.au>, Niall Byrne, 0417 131-977, niall at scienceinpublic.com.au<mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au>.


Niall Byrne

Creative Director
Science in Public

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