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factors linked to the development of the life-

threatening illness.

Fresh research

NAFLD is caused by a build-up of fat in the liver

cells. It is estimated that 20-25% of Europe’s

population suffer from the condition, including

up to 33% of people in the UK. With so many

citizens at risk, a key challenge is identifying

those people that will be most severely affected

and progress to liver cirrhosis or cancer,

allowing healthcare to be focused on patients

who need it most.

Co-ordinating the EPoS project is Dr Quentin

Anstee at the Institute of Cellular Medicine at

the UK’s Newcastle University, who is also an

honorary consultant hepatologist at Newcastle

Hospital’s NHS Foundation Trust. Discussing the

four-year project, Anstee said: “NAFLD is a

condition that is going to be the most common

cause for liver transplantation in many countries

within a decade, overtaking alcohol-related liver

disease and viral hepatitis. It is a major public

health challenge.

“This research will bring together experts from

centres across Europe to explore the subtle

differences between people that influence why

some patients are more severely affected by the

condition than others. At the moment, there are

no licensed medicines to treat NAFLD, and so

advice to patients at present is simply to go on

a diet. By understanding the disease processes

better we hope that this study will allow us to

develop new diagnostic tests and enable us to

identify new targets for treatment so that we can

devise better drugs in the future.”

People with NAFLD from across Europe will

take part in the study, providing samples that

will allow scientists to assess subtle genetic and

epigenetic differences, alterations in liver gene

expression, and changes in metabolism. Also

being evaluated is the bacteria in the bowel


atients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are set to

benefit from a major multimillion-euro European research project

aimed at developing better diagnostic tests and treatments. The

€6m in funding from Horizon 2020 will allow the ‘Elucidating Pathways

of Steatohepatitis’, or EPoS, project to bring together scientists and

clinicians from nine leading research centres in Europe to further

understand this disease that is strongly linked to obesity and Type 2

diabetes. Citizens suffering with high blood pressure or high cholesterol,

who smoke, or who are over the age of 50 are more likely to develop

the disease.

Research into NAFLD is growing in importance as obesity rates continue

to rise. Almost one-third of obese people have the disease, and it is

estimated that in EU member states obesity affects between 10-30% of

adults. Furthermore, data from the US National Library of Medicine

suggests that NAFLD is the most common liver disease in Western

countries, with an estimated prevalence rate of between 20-30% in the

general population.

People die from NAFLD as it is associated with an increased risk of liver

cirrhosis requiring transplantation, in addition to a higher risk of cancer

of the liver, a heart attack and stroke. More severe forms of NAFLD

include hepatic steatosis, or simple fatty liver, non-alcoholic

steatohepatitis and fibrosis.

This EU project will be the largest ever study of its kind to connect

research in liver disease across the continent. It is hoped that such efforts

will enable a greater understanding into the genetic and environmental


H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L



Liver pioneer


details a new Horizon 2020-funded project co-ordinated by the UK’s

Newcastle University which investigates the diagnosis and treatment of non-

alcoholic fatty liver disease

Non-alcoholic fatty

liver disease: statistics

indicate an estimated

prevalence rate of

up to 30% in the

Western world

© Nephron