A study conducted by researchers at UC San Diego has revealed new and helpful information about non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). This study, led by Dr. Joseph Witztum, focused on a mouse model of NASH. It was published in Cell Metabolism on November 21, 2019. It focused on an antibody that works against oxidized phospholipids (OxPL) and helped to stop the symptoms of NASH. The researchers who worked on this study are hopeful that their findings will apply to humans and help to treat the condition.
About Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is very similar to liver disease that affects long-term heavy drinkers, but it affects those who drink very little or not at all. Fat builds up in the liver, causing inflammation and damage. Severity varies from person to person, with some people not showing any symptoms and others losing the function of their liver due to scar tissue. The cause of NASH is debated, as it could be inherited or it could be due to various risk factors which trigger inflammation. While the exact cause is unknown, there are risk factors linked to NASH, which are obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome.
It is estimated that up to one quarter of the people in the United States are affected by NASH. When one is affected, they experience symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of weight and appetite, jaundice, itching, mental confusion, abdominal pain, swelling in the legs and abdomen, and spider-like vessels. After a doctor notices these symptoms, a blood test is conducted to examine the liver enzyme count. Other tests are run in order to rule out any other conditions, and doctors confirm the diagnosis with an ultrasound. There are currently no cures for NASH, but treatments include weight loss, lowering one’s cholesterol, avoiding alcohol, controlling diabetes, a healthy diet, and exercise.
About the Study
The study conducted at UC San Diego found that a particular antibody that occurs naturally in mice with NASH could help to prevent plaque formation, hardening of arteries, and liver disease. It also helped to prolong their lives. This antibody works to neutralize oxidized phospholipids (OxPL), which are partly responsible for causing NASH and many of the symptoms.
The study examined mice with the antibody and mice without it, and researchers found that mice who naturally produced it had less fat accumulation, inflammation, fibrosis, and progression to liver cancer. As NASH is expected to soon become the leading cause of liver cancer in the U.S., the findings of this study are very helpful.
Knowing that OxPL is a main factor in NASH can help researchers find a way to target these molecules and help to treat those with NASH. Not only can this new knowledge help with treatment, but it can aid in monitoring disease progression. Researchers found that the levels of OxPL were elevated in the blood of those with liver disease, and these levels accumulated in the areas of the liver most affected by NASH. Tracking the levels of this molecule can help doctors to track the progression of this condition.
The Future of Treatment for NASH
As of now, there are no FDA approved drugs meant to treat NASH. Researchers are hopeful that the findings in this study can lead to new treatments to help these patients. Targeting OxPL could be helpful not only for NASH, but for the treatment of other scarring diseases as well.
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