No medical treatment exists for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis ( NASH ), inflammation of the liver associated with the accumulation of fat in the liver.
Recent studies indicate that NASH can result in scarring of the liver in up to 40 percent of people with the disease and cirrhosis ( irreversible, advanced scarring of the liver ) in approximately 25 percent of people with NASH.
Researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital have launched a clinical trial to see if Pentoxifylline, a drug that has shown success decreasing inflammation of the liver in people with alcohol-related liver disease, can stop the progression of NASH.
" NASH is widespread and the number of cases is rising every year – it's truly become an epidemic in this country," says Mary Rinella, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who is the lead investigator of the trial. " Currently, we don't have anything to offer patients except to advise them to lose weight and change their diet, so many of these patients are ending up on liver transplant waiting lists. We need therapies that help keep people from reaching that point."
In developed countries, the overall prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease ( NAFLD ) is estimated to be approximately 20 percent of the population, with about 3 percent having NASH. NASH differs from the NAFLD, the simple accumulation of fat in the liver, in that the inflammation causes damage to the liver cells while simple fatty liver probably does not. NASH typically occurs in middle-aged, overweight, and often diabetic patients who do not drink alcohol. It has also been connected with rapid weight loss, or in women taking hormones.
" Clinical studies and basic research on NAFLD are still in their infancy as compared to other common liver diseases, such as alcoholic liver disease and hepatitis C," says Rinella. " We didn't really even start understanding the gravity of this problem in our patients until about 10 years ago."
NASH is most often discovered during routine laboratory testing. Additional tests help confirm the presence of NASH and rule out other types of liver disease.
Source: Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 2005