6 variations in genes identified that can affect non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
The research combined Generation Scotland volunteer data with data from the UK Biobank. It showed that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can be identified from hospital and GP records.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a very common condition, in which fat builds up in the liver. Normally liver cells don’t contain a lot of fat but in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease the liver cells start to store up excess amounts. The condition doesn't usually cause any symptoms but can eventually lead to inflammation of the liver, development of scar tissue and cirrhosis when the liver stops functioning normally. People with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are at higher risk of other diseases like heart attacks and diabetes.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is more common in people who are overweight. As well as obesity there are thought to be several gene variations that may increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A new study, led by Cameron Fairfield and published in Hepatology Communications, has identified 6 genes with variations that increase the risk of the condition.
Normally, a fatty liver is diagnosed by using either a biopsy - where a needle is inserted into the liver through the skin, and some liver cells are taken to be examined under a microscope - or by a scan such as an MRI scan. In this study, instead of using a biopsy or a scan, scientists used data generated from hospital records to identify non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Every time a patient attends the hospital, or the GP, a code is created to record why they attended. By linking these records anonymously to the genetic data provided by volunteers, scientists were able to find 6 genes that are linked to risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Some of the genes identified included genes involved in processing cholesterol and other types of fat within the body.
This research helps to demonstrate that by combining data from studies like Generation Scotland and the UK Biobank, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can be identified from hospital and GP codes. Using codes in this way will allow other scientists to research non-alcoholic fatty liver disease without always needing to biopsy or scan patients. Knowledge of genes that increase the risk of getting non-alcoholic fatty liver disease may also help with development of drugs that could be used to prevent the condition or prevent its progression to cirrhosis. In the future, this knowledge may also help identify people at high risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease who can then be helped to change their lifestyle so that fatty liver does not occur.
This paper was published in Hepatology Communications and can be found in the link below: