New blood test detects fatty liver disease at an early stage
The dangerous thing about fatty liver is that it often remains undetected because it does not cause severe symptoms, but at the same time increases the risk of serious secondary diseases massively. Another problem is the diagnosis, because fatty liver is only recognized when it has already enlarged and is already showing harmful effects. A European research community now wants to change this. You are currently developing a simple blood test to detect early-stage fatty liver.
At present, fatty liver can only be recognized in an advanced stage by elevated liver values, ultrasound or a liver biopsy. Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) recently presented a new diagnostic method for the early detection of fatty liver. The team identified certain proteins in the blood that indicate the development of liver disease. The research results were presented in the journal “Molecular Systems Biology”.
Fatty liver - the secret suffering
Non-alcoholic fatty liver has developed into a real widespread disease in recent decades. According to estimates by the German Liver Foundation, every fourth inhabitant over the age of 40 is affected by a fatty liver. Unhealthy eating is the most common cause. The fatty liver often remains undetected, because only non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, tiredness, feeling of fullness or stomach pressure in the right upper abdomen in some cases indicate its presence.
If left untreated, the fatty liver can catch fire, which favors serious diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. If the affected person suffers from heart disease at the same time, it often takes a more severe course.
Proteins reveal the fatty liver - before it arises
EMBO researchers have now discovered a number of proteins that are enriched in the blood when there is a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. These proteins in the blood plasma can be recognized at a very early stage. If the fatty liver is detected early, the development of the disease can be prevented with targeted lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medication. The proteins can be determined in a simple blood test. Lengthy and costly diagnostic procedures, which also involve certain risks in the case of liver puncture, are then no longer necessary, according to the research team.
The liver: hard, but not indestructible
"The liver is very resilient and can regenerate itself," explains study leader Matthias Mann from the University of Copenhagen in a press release on the study results. This could be the reason that liver damage due to excessive fat deposition can go undetected for a long time. However, if the damage becomes too great, liver function will ultimately fail - with far-reaching consequences for the body, because the liver is an important organ that filters toxins out of the body and produces proteins that are required for digestion, blood clotting and other important physiological functions become.
Today's liver diagnoses are too cumbersome and expensive
"To date, the standard procedure for diagnosing non-alcoholic fatty liver is liver biopsy - a laborious and costly procedure that can lead to complications," says the research director. A reliable and non-invasive method for early detection is urgently needed.
Six proteins indicate fatty liver
In a series of experiments, the research team found that the proteins in the blood of people with fatty liver disease differ significantly from those in healthy people. Many proteins are directly related to known aspects of the disease. According to the researchers, this includes, for example, a lack of vitamins A and D and a damaged sugar metabolism. In further experiments, the scientists were able to identify a total of six proteins that are significantly associated with the non-alcoholic fatty liver and are detectable at an early stage. "This is an important step on the way to new diagnostic tools for the identification of patients with fatty liver in an early pre-symptomatic phase," the researchers sum up. (vb)