Liver fibrosis, a disease characterized by the formation of scar tissue in the liver, is often the result of underlying liver disease and poses a significant health challenge.
Despite various treatments that target the causes of liver disease, there is currently no medical cure for liver fibrosis. Researchers have been tirelessly searching for new ways to combat this disease.
Understanding the cellular basis of liver fibrosis
Liver fibrosis arises from complex cellular processes in the liver.
A Danish-American research team led by Associate Professor Kim Ravnskjaer investigated the complex cellular changes responsible for the formation of scar tissue. The main players in this process are liver stellate cells, named for their star-shaped appearance.
Discovery of the role of intestinal hormones
In a groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Hepatology, the research team uncovered previously unknown changes in liver stellate cells that drive fibrosis.
They identified a promising method for deactivating these cells – gut hormones, with a focus on vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP). VIP, which occurs naturally in the gut and neurons, appears to be key to keeping stellate cells inactive.
“VIP stimulates the blood supply to the liver, but also seems to keep the stellate cells inactive,” explains Kim Ravnskjaer.
Potential for new treatment strategies
The results open doors for possible treatments for liver fibrosis. Researchers plan to develop synthetic hormones that target specific receptors on stellate cells.
“This could lead to new treatment options for patients. “For example, you could develop synthetic hormones that target the receptors of certain cells,” says Ravnskjaer.
While research into the treatment of liver fibrosis is underway worldwide, many existing medications have significant side effects that limit their approval. The novel approach of targeting specific cell changes promises to reduce side effects.
“If we target these drugs more closely to the cell changes we have discovered, we could potentially avoid many of the side effects,” emphasizes Kim Ravnskjaer.
Transferring findings from mice to humans
The first results were observed in mice exposed to a diet high in fat and sugar for a year. The research team then confirmed similar cell changes in human liver tissue samples from patients with liver disease.
This cross-species validation highlights the potential relevance of their discoveries to human patients.
A long journey lies ahead of us
Although these results offer hope, the development of new drugs based on this research is still in its early stages and may take years.
However, this work represents a significant step toward unraveling the mysteries of liver fibrosis and bringing us closer to effective treatments that could transform the lives of patients with this challenging disease.
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The research results can be found in the Journal of Hepatology.
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