Ongoing Research Funded by DHF

Earlier Detection for Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease Can Save Lives


Principal Investigators: Amanda C. Cheung, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology and Hepatology), Northwestern Medicine, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine

Andres Duarte-Rojo, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology and Hepatology) and Surgery (Organ Transplantation), Northwestern Medicine, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine

A serious public health concern, excessive alcohol consumption causes almost 50% of liver disease deaths in the United States. Unfortunately, many patients with alcohol-associated liver (ALD) damage have late stage disease by the time they receive a diagnosis. A major liver transplant is often their only option for lifesaving treatment. Importantly, the relationship between amounts of alcohol consumed and damage to the liver is difficult to predict, with some patients (often women) developing liver scarring earlier with less alcohol consumption while others are able to drink more without significant health complications. To add to this challenge, no detection tests currently exist to identify early signs of liver scarring (fibrosis) in individuals with alcohol use disorder. This year, a DHF award is supporting Dr. Amanda Cheung’s team in identifying a biomarker for early fibrosis to improve ALD screening for at-risk individuals. A network of proteins and molecules surrounding cells, the extracellular matrix (ECM) may offer promise as an early warning system. Inflammation from ALD has been shown to damage the ECM, increasing detectable chemical changes, or “degradome,” that are precursors to developing irreversible fibrosis. Up to this point, limited studies have looked only at the degradome profiles in the blood of patients with liver fibrosis. In this new DHF study, Dr. Cheung’s team is investigating the degradome profiles of patients with ALD before fibrosis takes hold to develop a viable biomarker, offering new hope for earlier diagnosis and survival in this vulnerable patient population.

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