Fatty liver, launch of the LITMUS project
Funded by the European Union with 34 million euro in the context of the European Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking - IMI2, the LITMUS (Liver Investigation: Testing Marker Utility in Steatohepatitis) project has started. The international project brings together European clinicians and scientists to develop new non-invasive diagnostic tests to assess patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The LITMUS project will run for 5 years, involving 47 important academic centres and companies across Europe from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations - EFPIA and is coordinated by the University of Newcastle, in collaboration with Pfizer Ltd, the lead EFPIA partner.
The research team of the Department of Medical Sciences at the University of Turin, led by Prof. Elisabetta Bugianesi, is the leader of the Italian group of universities participating in the initiative, which includes the Universities of Milan, Florence, Palermo, the CNR in Pisa, the Marche Polytechnic University and the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Rome.
The project aims to develop and spread more accurate biomarkers for liver injury, to be used for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – NAFLD.
This disease, which affects 20 - 30% of the population worldwide and is strongly linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes, is caused by an accumulation of fat in the liver cells and can lead to inflammation, liver tissue fibrosis and cirrhosis.
“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is already the most common underlying cause of liver transplant in the USA and, with the obesity epidemic in Europe, we are very close behind”, said Professor Quentin Anstee, from Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine.
The new diagnostic tests that will be developed for NAFLD will be used to identify the patients who are most at risk for developing chronic hepatitis with severe liver inflammation and fibrosis, before the disease progresses to liver cirrhosis or cancer.
“LITMUS will unite clinicians and academic experts from centres across Europe with scientists from the leading pharmaceutical companies, all working together to develop and validate new highly-accurate blood tests and imaging techniques that can diagnose the severity of liver disease, predict how each patient’s disease will progress and monitor those changes, better or worse, as they occur”, added Professor Anstee.
“Now that Hepatitis C is in the process of being resolved thanks to the efficacy of the new treatments, NAFLD, and specifically NASH, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, which can evolve to liver cirrhosis, is likely to replace it for number of patients potentially at risk of being affected and for its link with obesity and Type 2 diabetes”, said Prof. Bugianesi. “This contribution from the European Union allows us to bring together academia and industry, giving real hope of making significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of this increasingly common and often misunderstood or underestimated disease".