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Researchers Identify 2 Genes Linked to Fatty Liver Disease
Date:3/24/2010

hibits an enzyme that breaks down fats, Shulman said. The excess fats are deposited in the liver. Thirty-eight percent of the men with the gene variants had fatty liver disease.

The Yale group then did the same genetic study in a mixed ethnic group of 163 men and found a similar incidence of fatty liver disease and insulin resistance among those with the gene variants.

The next step in the Yale program will be an effort to learn why the condition is more common in East Asian men, Shulman said. But a longer-term goal is to put the finding to use to detect high-risk individuals, he noted.

"If you have a test, you can make them careful about their weight," he said. "The good news is that we have shown that even modest weight reduction can reduce the risk. Dropping 15 pounds reverses fatty liver disease and insulin resistance."

Beyond that would be a treatment aimed at the gene variants, Shulman said. "It's even better if you have something you can do about it," he said. "You could screen people, test for fatty liver and insulin resistance and treat that with agents."

A screening test could help single out people whose fatty livers were not dangerous, said Dr. Anna Mae Diehl, chief of gastroenterology at Duke University, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal.

"Simply having extra fat in the liver is of unknown significance," Diehl said. "Many people who have it are fine. Some get more advanced forms of liver disease. We want to know if this polymorphism is associated not only with fat, but also with damage."

Such a determination now requires a biopsy to remove a segment of the liver for examination, Diehl said. "We still don't have a noninvasive blood test," she said. "That might help sort out who has more serious damage. We are hoping that in the next few years better tests become available."

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