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Special Omega-3 Lipid Plays a Key Role That Could Prevent Fatty Liver Disease

An artistic impression of a liver.
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Long-running research by Duke-NUS Medical School into the omega-3 transporter protein Mfsd2a has shown that it plays a key role in a specific mechanism that prevents the liver from storing too much fat from food. Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, this latest study by Duke-NUS and collaborators from Singapore General Hospital (SGH) signals the possibility that a dietary supplement could be developed to help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Eating too much fatty food increases the risk of many health problems, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and NAFLD. The excess fat that accumulates in the liver during the onset of NAFLD leads to inflammation and progressive deterioration and scarring, called cirrhosis of the liver. The rate of NAFLD is remarkably high in Singapore, affecting around 40 per cent of adults compared to 27 per cent globally.

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One type of fat called phospholipids are essential for making cell membranes and actually protect the liver against the harmful effects of dietary fat.

“Our study emphasises the importance of taking a proactive approach to keeping the liver healthy,” said Professor David Silver, the senior author of the study and Deputy Director of the CVMD Programme. “Overnutrition with fatty foods can cause cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and NAFLD. The prevalence of NAFLD is of major importance to the general population, which is becoming increasingly aware of this problem."

As the discovery marks a significant development in the search for a way to protect liver function from a disease that is affecting a growing number of people across the world, the Duke-NUS research team now plans to undertake rigorous clinical studies with their collaborators at SGH to test whether LPC supplementation really can improve the outcomes in patients with NAFLD.

“If the trials prove successful, this work could help the vast numbers of people worldwide whose health is seriously affected by the condition,” said Prof Silver.

Next, the team plans to probe in more detail the molecular mechanisms that allow LPCs to promote liver health in general.

Reference: Chin CF, Galam DLA, Gao L, et al. Blood-derived lysophospholipid sustains hepatic phospholipids and fat storage necessary for hepatoprotection in overnutrition. J Clin Investig. 2023. doi: 10.1172/JCI171267

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