Scientists have identified new sub-types of cells that, when they interact, accelerate the scarring process in diseased livers. Experts hope that by understanding more about how these cells behave, new treatments can be developed more quickly for liver diseases.
One in five people in the UK are at risk of developing liver disease. It is predicted to become the most common cause of premature death in the UK. It can occur as a result of a number of conditions such as obesity, alcohol excess, viral infections, autoimmune diseases or genetic disorders.
Long-term damage leads to the formation of scar tissue within the liver, eventually causing liver failure. There are currently no treatments available to prevent or reverse this.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh used a new technology called single-cell RNA sequencing to study liver scarring in high definition. They discovered sub-types of three key cells: white blood cells called macrophages, endothelial cells – which line blood vessels – and scar-forming cells known as myofibroblasts.
“Identifying new treatments for liver scarring is critical to tackling the epidemic of liver disease that we are currently facing. For the first time, we now have an in-depth understanding of how cells behave and talk to each other in diseased livers and, importantly, how we might block their activity as a treatment for liver scarring.” said Dr Prakash Ramachandran, an author of the study.
Ramachandran et al. (2019). Resolving the fibrotic niche of human liver cirrhosis at single-cell level. Nature. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1631-3
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