Although most people are familiar with the term ‘hepatitis,’ many are not aware that it is an autoimmune disease.
A recent article in Life Sciences describes autoimmune hepatitis as a disease that causes inflammation of the liver. Simply stated, liver cells are attacked by the body’s immune system which does not recognize the patient’s own liver cells. It may be termed an immunological malfunction.
If the disease is left untreated, autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) may cause fibrosis (abnormal scarring) leading to cirrhosis of the liver, liver transplant, or liver failure. Therefore, early detection is warranted.
The following describes several signs and symptoms of autoimmune liver disease:
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in the upper part of the abdomen
- Dark urine
- Light color of stools
- Various skin conditions e.g. rash, psoriasis, or acne
More About Autoimmune Hepatitis
Normally, the immune system makes antibodies called immunoglobulins G (protein compounds) and lymphocytes that neutralize viruses and bacteria (pathogens).
These antibodies are made after a person has been vaccinated against infection or infected by the pathogen. Healthy cells are not attacked.
But in autoimmune diseases, the immune system makes autoantibodies and specific lymphocytes that mistakenly go on the attack against a patient’s own organs and cells.
Testing for Liver Disease
Detecting autoantibodies is the basis for AIH diagnosis, but current tests for liver disease have limited use when doctors are seeking an accurate diagnosis. The two main factors limiting detection are (a) autoantibodies are not found in every patient who has AIH and (b) autoantibodies are occasionally associated with other diseases.
Doctors may test the blood’s level of liver enzymes (ALT and AST). Again this method is not accurate, especially in hepatitis C, as the tests for liver function have a tendency to fluctuate.
The goal then was to find precise autoantibodies for AIH and also find autoantibodies that are different from markers of other diseases of the liver.
Liver biopsy is perhaps the most accurate test, but it is extremely invasive. It involves inserting a long needle through the abdomen to the liver to remove a piece of tissue that will be examined under a microscope.
Dr. Taubert explains that the new test can provide results within a few hours. Therefore many patients may be spared the invasive liver biopsy.
About the New Test
Richard Taubert, M.D. is a senior physician at Hannover Medical School. Dr. Taubert and his team have developed a new antibody test for use in diagnosing AIH more rapidly and reliably than current tests.
Dr. Taubert and his colleagues worked with ten European centers that specialize in liver diseases. The scientists examined over one thousand blood samples. The final results were published in the Journal of Hepatology.
An Interesting Find
While analyzing various blood samples, the researchers found a polyreactive immunoglobulin that binds to a certain protein called HIP1R, which is found throughout the body and liver.
Dr. Taubert explains that now, with HIP1R binding, they can identify polyreactive immunoglobulins for diagnostic use. He further stated that polyreactive immunoglobulins are more accurate than the conventional autoantibodies that have been used in the past.
The finding will allow AIH patients to be detected even though their systems have not formed classic antibodies.
To date, researchers have checked the new test’s reliability on hundreds of blood samples in other member laboratories across the European Network. Their goal is to see that the test is available in numerous laboratories as soon as possible.
A European patent has already been granted for the test.