Ongoing Research Funded by DHF

Genetic Mapping Offers Unprecedented Prevention and Treatment of Bile Duct Disorder, PSC


Principal Investigator: Xiaoying Liu, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of Medicine (Gastroenterology and Hepatology), Northwestern Medicine, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine

A rare liver disorder, primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) occurs when thickening of bile ducts block the normal, necessary flow of bile within the digestive system. Buildup of toxic bile acids can lead to irreversible liver cirrhosis, cancer, and the need for a risky, life-altering liver transplant. For unknown reasons, up to 70% of patients with PSC also have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), especially ulcerative colitis. Today, effective treatments don’t yet exist to prevent this progressive and potentially fatal liver disease. Dr. Xiaoying Liu’s team is using this year’s DHF grant award to better understand the disease process of PSC in order to stop it from damaging the liver. The researchers are studying a molecular pathway called “unfolded protein response (UPR)” that springs into action to protect cells from toxicity in the liver. This exciting study stands on the shoulders of previously successful DHF funded research proving increased UPR pathway gene expression in post-liver transplant patients. Dr. Liu hopes to further delineate the protective role of UPR to create a first-in-the-world liver cell atlas in PSC to map cell signaling and cellular interactions. These studies offer important promise for identifying molecular targets to develop much needed new drug therapies for PSC patients.

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