UCL News


Major study into liver failure biomarker

3 July 2007

The Liver Failure Group from the Institute of Hepatology at UCL has received a total of £670,000 from the Medical Research Council and a liver therapies company to investigate a biomarker that could enable doctors to identify which patients with cirrhosis are likely to develop multi-organ failure.

UCL Liver Failure Group

A team led by Dr Rajiv Jalan, Dr Raj Mookerjee and Dr Nathan Davies has received a three-year grant from the Medical Research Council to validate their findings suggesting that the biomarker 'DASIMAR' identified by the team can act as an early indicator in these cases.

"Between 12 and 15 million people worldwide have serious liver disease, and up to 7,000 patients die every year in the UK from liver failure - it's a huge problem," said Dr Jalan, Head of the Liver Failure Group.

An early indication of liver failure would boost patients' chance of survival in three main ways. The time gained would allow patients to be referred to specialist centres earlier where the way in which the condition is managed could be intensified. It would allow time for a suitable liver to be found for a transplant. In the future, it is also likely that an emerging technology in the field, a liver dialysis-style system currently being trialled at UCL and UCL Hospitals, would be more effective for patients whose condition is diagnosed early.

To validate the team's understanding of the way in which the 'DASIMAR' biomarker works, 700 people with liver disease will take part in studies at specialist liver centres at UCL/UCL Hospitals, the Royal Free Hospital, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Newcastle.

The work depends on a number of collaborations. Dr Steve Baigent at UCL Mathematics will create mathematical models that predict patients' outcome based on the data gathered at the centres across the UK. He became involved in the research through CoMPLEX, UCL's forum for interdisciplinary research and teaching in science. A component of the analysis will be performed in conjunction with Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital and statistical modelling will be carried out by Mayo College, Rochester in the US.

Vital Therapies, a US-based liver therapies company, has provided £250,000 for the study. It is in the course of developing a novel human liver cell-based system that will provide metabolic support for patients with severe liver failure. Dr Jalan is currently collaborating with the company on a clinical trial of the new device in China.

The potential of the biomarker came to light during explorations of acute-on-chronic liver failure - a syndrome first described by Dr Jalan's team.

UCL Business PLC has patented the DASIMAR biomarker and is responsible for commercial activity associated with it.

To find out more, follow the links at the top of this article.

Image: The UCL Liver Failure Group. Seated from left: Dr Rajiv Jalan, Dr Nathan Davies, Dr Gavin Wright; standing from left: Dr Bala Subramanium, Dr Raj Mookerjee, Dr Stephen Hodges, Dr Vanessa Stadlbauer