Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which occurs when fat builds up in the liver, affects around 20-30 % of the population worldwide. In most people, NAFLD does not cause health problems. However, a small proportion (less than 10 %) of people with NAFLD will go on to develop a more serious condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The livers of people with NASH are characterised by inflammation and scarring, and they are at a greater risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer. The challenge for doctors is identifying which NAFLD patients will go on to develop NASH and, for those with NASH, predicting how fast the disease will progress. Currently, diagnosis requires a liver biopsy, an invasive, often painful procedure that requires a hospital stay. As a result, many patients are not diagnosed until their disease is relatively advanced. The lack of a simple diagnostic tool also hampers the development of new treatments for NAFLD and NASH.
The goal of the LITMUS project is therefore to develop and validate highly accurate blood tests and imaging techniques that will allow doctors and researchers to rapidly and easily diagnose the severity of patients’ disease and monitor changes in patients’ livers. The tests should also make it possible to predict which NAFLD patients are at greatest risk of developing NASH, and how fast their disease is likely to progress.
The impacts of the project will be twofold. For patients and doctors, the tests will ensure that patients are diagnosed earlier and more easily. For researchers, the tests will make it easier to carry out clinical studies on NAFLD/NASH, including trials of potential treatments.