The Continuum of Liver Disease

Liver disease affects millions of people in the United States alone, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths yearly, placing liver disease and cirrhosis firmly in the top 15 leading causes of death. While liver disease has been a topic of study for a long time, there are aspects that still elude scientists today largely due to limitations of current liver disease models. Here at Visikol, we have worked hard to develop in vitro screening assays which allow our Clients to study liver disease, with a focus on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), in a higher throughput and more developmentally relevant way.

An important aspect of treating any disease is in understanding points of intervention; the same is true of NAFLD. In NAFLD the liver begins to retain fats, leading to what is called steatosis. This can then progress to NASH, characterized by inflammation and scarring due to deposition of collagen within the liver, which can lead to severe fibrosis (cirrhosis), where a majority of the liver now consists of scar tissue, eventually resulting in liver failure and/or liver cancer. The good news is that both the NASH and NAFLD stages have shown the ability to be reversed, marking these as key stages for possible intervention with clinical treatment. Unfortunately, patients who have NAFLD or NASH typically have little to no symptoms in these early stages making diagnosis difficult and once the disease has progressed to where a patient is expressing symptoms, it may be too late for any intervention short of a liver transplant.

Currently, physicians rely heavily on risk factors such as obesity and diabetes to assess the likelihood of developing NAFLD, but the early stages of the disease are difficult to diagnose. Physicians typically depend on a combination of several methods including a physical examination, blood tests for increased levels of certain liver enzymes, imaging tests and often times a liver biopsy to confirm diagnosis. Right now, more studies are needed to understand the specifics of NAFLD and NASH progression in order to help facilitate early diagnosis and the development of suitable treatments.

Visikol has developed several 3D cell culture liver models which allow us to model NAFLD/NASH. Combining hepatocytes and primary non-parenchymal cells (hepatic stellate cells, LSECs, Kupffer cells, etc.) within our HepaRG™ NP 3D liver model we have been able examine end points such as: collagen deposition, hepatic stellate cell activation, lipid deposition etc. Please feel free to reach out if you are interested in learning more about our NAFLD/NASH models or any of the other services we offer. Visikol is always enthusiastic to hear about our Clients’ interests and to work together to develop assays that best suit your needs!

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