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€34M Project Aims to Develop Dx Tools for Fatty Liver Disease

NEW YORK (360Dx) – With €34 million ($39.9 million) in funding, a European research project was announced on Monday targeting patients most at-risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.

Called Liver Investigation: Testing Marker Utility in Steatohepatitis (LITMUS), the project is funded by the European Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking and brings together clinicians and scientists from academic centers across Europe with companies from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations in order to develop, validate, and quantify better biomarkers for testing NAFLD.

Newcastle University in the UK and Pfizer will co-coordinate LITMUS, which will include 47 international research partners. In a statement, the university said that between 20 percent and 30 percent of people globally are affected by NAFLD, which results from the buildup of fat in liver cells, leading to inflammation, scarring of the liver, and ultimately cirrhosis. NAFLD is also strongly linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

However, less than 10 percent of patients with the disease will come to harm, Newcastle University said, adding the challenge is to identify those who will be most severely affected and progress to cirrhosis or cancer. Presently, that involves a liver biopsy, which can be done only in specialist hospitals. The need is for better diagnostic tools.

NAFLD is the most common underlying cause of liver transplants in the US, and Europe is close behind due to the obesity epidemic, said Quentin Anstee, a professor at the university's Institute of Cellular Medicine, a consultant hepatologist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and a co-coordinator of the LITMUS consortium.

"LITMUS will unite clinicians and academic experts from centers across Europe with scientists from the leading pharmaceutical companies, all working together to develop and validate new highly accurate blood tests and imaging techniques that can diagnose the severity of liver disease, predict how each patient's disease will progress, and monitor those changes, better or worse, as they occur," Anstee said.