Back grey_arrow_rt.gif
New drug may heal liver
  Australian News
Clara Pirani, Medical reporter
September 25, 2006
SCIENTISTS have discovered a drug that they predict could prevent liver disease, even in alcoholics.
Tests on the drug, which is already used to treat inflammatory bowel disease, found that it prevented scarring of the liver and even reversed liver damage.
Christopher Day, a liver specialist from Newcastle University in Britain who led the research, said sulphasalazine could provide an alternative to liver transplants.
"This drug is not a finite resource. You are not stealing it from someone else, which is always a worry in public opinion," Professor Day said.
"People are dying on the transplant list."
Until now, cirrhosis of the liver, caused by alcohol, obesity or the hepatitis C virus, was considered incurable in all but the rarest of cases.
The only option for patients in the final stages of liver disease was to wait for a liver transplant.
Robert Jones, director of the Austin Hospital's liver transplant unit in Melbourne, said that more than 10 per cent of patients died while on the waiting list.
"At any one time there's usually about 100 to 130 people on the waiting list in Australia and up to 15 to 20 per cent will die," Professor Jones said.
"The death rate is increasing because of the increasing demand for transplants and the very fixed donor supply. So there is a lot of work going on trying to find drugs that would reverse fibrosis in the liver."
The researchers have tested the drug on animals and human trials are expected to begin in Britain next year.
The drug will initially be given to heavy drinkers who have given up alcohol too late for their liver to recover naturally.
If this proves successful, the medicine will also be prescribed to alcoholics who continue to drink but show a determination to fight their addiction by reducing intake.
"The prospect is that you may be able to continue drinking," Professor Day said.
"If the drug is not too expensive, I may say, of course we have to give these patients advice about drinking, but who are we to say, 'Just because you are still drinking, we are not going to give you this drug'?
"I would be of the view that it should be tried in patients who are making an effort."
Sulphasalazine may also relieve the ethical dilemma of giving donated livers to people whose illness was self-inflicted through excessive consumption of alcohol or poor diet and obesity.
Professor Jones said 10 to 15 per cent of people on the waiting list for a liver transplant were heavy drinkers.
"It's a very tough decision for the doctors, if, for example they are faced with a 45-year-old man with a young family who's a heavy drinker. (If) you say no to the transplant, they will die.
"It would be revolutionary if this drug could reverse the liver damage so you wouldn't need to do a transplant or, better yet, prevent the damage in the first place."
  icon paper stack View Older Articles   Back to Top