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Largest ever genetic study of liver function could point the way to new treatments
Date:10/16/2011

Researchers have identified a large number of areas in the human genetic code that are involved in regulating the way in which the liver functions, in a new study of over 61,000 people, published today in the journal Nature Genetics.

The work is an international collaboration led by Imperial College London and it identifies 42 genetic regions associated with liver function, 32 of which had not been linked to liver function before. The work should lead to a better understanding of precisely what goes wrong when the liver ceases to work normally. Ultimately, it could point the way to new treatments that can improve the function of the liver and help to prevent liver damage.

The liver is the body's largest internal organ and the British Liver Trust estimates that around two million people in the UK have a liver problem at any one time. The liver carries out hundreds of different tasks, including making proteins and blood clotting factors, and helping with digestion and energy release. It also purifies the blood of bacteria, and of the by-products of digestion, alcohol and drugs.

In the new genome-wide association study, the researchers compared the genetic makeup of over 61,000 people, in order to identify areas of the genetic code that were associated with liver function.

The team assessed the function of the volunteers' livers by looking at the concentrations of liver enzymes in their blood. People who have liver damage have high concentrations of these enzymes, which are associated with an increased risk of conditions such as cirrhosis, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Dr John Chambers, the lead author of the study from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said: "The liver is a central hub in the body and because it has so many diverse functions, it is linked to a large number of conditions. Our new study is a big step towards understanding the role that different genes play in
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Contact: LAURA GALLAGHER
l.gallagher@imperial.ac.uk
0044-207-594-8432
Imperial College London
Source:Eurekalert

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