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New test detects cirrhosis of the liver in an early stage

Ghent researchers have developed a new and easy method of detecting cirrhosis of the liver. This major finding helps predict the evolution of chronic liver disease, allowing physicians to start proper treatment early on. Patients suffering from this serious, progressive disease in its cirrhosis stage have a high chance of developing liver cancer. The test developed in Ghent permits frequent, non-invasive analyses to be carried out, through which the critical stages of the disease can be closely monitored.

Chronic liver disease: life-threatening and progressive

Millions of people worldwide suffer from chronic liver disease. The major causes are infection by one of the hepatitis viruses and excessive use of alcohol. The liver is a very complex organ, where more than 500 metabolic functions take place, including clearing toxic substances from our body and producing proteins that coagulate the blood following wounds. Liver problems have a high rate of incidence and - after cancer and cardiovascular disorders - they are the third cause of death among people between 40 and 65.

The most problematic aspect of chronic liver disease is liver fibrosis, in which connective tissue grows throughout the liver, disrupting the composition of this complex organ and, in time, its functioning as well. Depending on its cause and on the patient, liver fibrosis can evolve rapidly or slowly. There are several distinct stages. One of the final stages is cirrhosis of the liver. When a patient develops cirrhosis, the chance of liver cancer rises sharply (25 to 40 times higher than normal) and in a very advanced stage the liver is no longer able to function. The only possibility at that point is a liver transplant - an extremely complicated intervention.

Current treatment is problematic

In order to decide which treatment is appropriate for a particular patient with liver fibrosis, doctors need to know which stage the liver disease
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Contact: Prof. Roland Contreras
Roland.Contreras@dmbr.UGent.be
32-9-331-36-31
VIB, Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology
8-Mar-2004


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