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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 00:03 GMT
Cirrhosis 'could be blocked'
drinking
Heavy drinking can lead to cirrhosis of the liver
Scientists say they have pinpointed how liver cirrhosis develops - and discovered a gene therapy which might eventually prevent it.

In a study carried out in America and Britain, researchers identified a protein in mice which appears to be responsible for the growth of excessive scar tissue after injury or chronic illness.

It is this scarring which characterises liver cirrhosis, which, in some cases, can prove fatal or require liver transplantation.

In the liver, the scarring can be caused by heavy alcohol consumption or chronic hepatitis infection.

The scientists made a genetic change to mice which blocked the protein, called C/EBP.

In this way, the researchers, led by Martina Buck at the University of California in San Diego, were able to stop fibrous growth which causes excessive scarring.

Prevention

They believe their genetic modifications in mice could pave the way for treatments to prevent cirrhosis in humans.

A small amount of fibrous tissue growth is valuable for the normal healing process but an excessive amount can lead to conditions such as liver fibrosis or cirrhosis.

Senior author of the study, Mario Chojkier, said: "In some individuals, injury or a chronic illness causes fibrous tissue to accumulate

"In severely burned patients, there could be terrible skin scarring.

"In the liver this can lead to cirrhosis and serious life-threatening medical complications such as internal bleeding, fluid accumulation and an inability to handle medications or environmental toxins.

"However, until now we haven't known how this process occurred at the molecular level and how we might prevent it."

Dr Chojkier said the findings may also apply to other organs such as kidneys, lungs and skin.

See also:

18 Oct 00 | Health
Inoperable liver cancer treatment
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