Well then… Cheers!

20. February 2008

The year started well. News came from Denmark that alcohol, combined with a healthy lifestyle, can lower the risk of cardiac diseases. Cambridge announced that among others a moderate consumption can increase the lifespan. Not really a consolation for people suffering from liver fibrosis or -cirrhosis. But another message from San Diego brings hope.

Six years ago, scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) announced that they succeeded in identifying a protein triggering fibrosis respectively cirrhosis. In addition they had described a way how to stop the associated cicatrisation respectively the reproduction of the connective tissue. The evidence was provided during experiments with mice with fibroid damaged livers. Back then the hope was limited to being able to develop a therapy stopping this disease. The latest news of the research group of Martina Buck, Ph. D., brings hope for much more: Liver fibrosis cannot only be stopped, but healed as well respectively be reversed. The result could be the basis for healing viral hepatitis, fatty liver, cirrhosis, lung fibrosis or burns – according to the Californians.

Stellate cells cause overproduction

A fibrosis causes pathological connective tissue for example in the liver. The so-called stellate cells are the cause here producing a plethora of collagen fibers during the pathological stage. Normally collagen is responsible for the healing of wounds. But too much of it causes the opposite – it results in a cicatrisation of the tissue. In the terminal stage it leads to cirrhosis. About 14,000 people die of liver cirrhosis every year in German, about 800,000 all over the world according to the UCSD. The elicitors can be for example hepatitis B- or C-viruses or unrestrained consumption of alcohol. Up to now it is not possible to heal a person with that disease. For now it is only mice being cured in San Diego. Since the same protein signs responsible for the production of collagen fibers in people with liver fibrosis, Buck and his colleagues now hope that they might be able to cure the human liver with their research results as well.

Blockade of the RSK-protein

The development of scar tissue can be stopped by the blockade of the protein RSK. For this purpose, scientists injected a peptide into the abdominal cavity of mice with liver fibrosis over a longer period of time. After about three to four months the stellate cells stopped the production of collagen and the number of healthy liver cells went down. “Six years ago, we showed a way to prevent or stop the excessive scarring in animal models,” says Martina Buck. “Our latest finding proves that we can actually reverse the damage”. But it yet will take some time until people can be treated. On request at the Medical University of UCSD, the press spokeswoman replied: “A drug therapy has not been developed yet, so we aren't evenclose to human trials.”

Pills against serious damage of the liver?

It appears that a research team at the University of Newcastle, UK has passed that stage. In 2006, Professor Chris Day and the scientists published that an inexpensive and available drug was able to reverse a severe liver disease. Basis of their experiments with animals was an active agent normally used for treatment of arthritis or intestinal inflammation. If the thesis of the UK researchers stands in clinical studies as well, alcoholics could – theoretically – be saved from death, even if they continue drinking.

That certainly does not only raise ethic issues. Professor Day still considers the “pill” a potential solution to make a liver transplantation for alcohol addicts redundant – which might be a real ethical issue. But it yet is a long way to go until the pill could be a concrete thing, as the scientists said about a year and a half ago. In the meantime we have not heard a thing about the wonder pill. Instead we heard from gloating bloggers taking a stand on the UCSD announcement along the lines of: “Only brain cells cannot be replaced again” and “Hence the boozer will eventually end up as a complete moron”.

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