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Better diagnosis of liver fibrosis can save lives
British scientists have now succeeded in developing a blood test that can diagnose liver diseases ten years before the onset. The new development could significantly improve the treatment of liver diseases.
In their current study, scientists from University College London and the University of Massachusetts found that a simple and inexpensive blood test can identify problems with the liver years before the first symptoms. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Advanced Materials".
Blood test can quickly detect liver fibrosis
A quick blood test for liver fibrosis, which can diagnose the disease ten years before the symptoms appear, has now been presented by the scientists. The test can be carried out in a doctor's office and the results of the examination are already available in 30 minutes. The new test will cost under £ 60 and is capable of diagnosing the disease ten or maybe even 20 years earlier, the experts say. The researchers hope that this test will be available within the next five to ten years.
The mortality rate from liver diseases increases
Liver disease is the fifth largest cause of death in the UK and is one of the few diseases where the mortality rate is still increasing. The numbers show that a total of 11,600 people died of liver disease in 2014. This corresponds to an increase of 25 percent since 2001, the British scientists explain.
Diagnosis is often too late
Most cases are caused by being overweight or consuming too much alcohol. Symptoms appear only late, so that many of those affected are diagnosed with such a disease only after the disease has progressed.
Liver fibrosis can have fatal consequences
The new method for detecting liver fibrosis can be carried out in 30 to 45 minutes with a simple blood test. The so-called liver fibrosis is considered the first stage of scarring of the liver, which leads to fatal liver diseases if it can develop uncontrollably.
How does the new test work?
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have developed a sensor that uses large molecules (so-called polymers) coated with fluorescent dyes that bind to blood proteins due to their chemical properties. The test could enable a cost-effective, regular screening program, says study author Professor William Rosenberg from University College London. These fluorescent dyes change their brightness and color, which results in a different fluorescence pattern, depending on the protein composition of the blood sample, the researchers explain. The sensor has been tested by comparing the results of small blood samples from 65 people in three groups of healthy patients and patients with early and late stage fibrosis.
What is an ELF test?
The groups were determined with the help of the so-called ELF test (Enhanced Liver Fibrosis), the existing test for the detection of liver fibrosis, in which samples have to be sent to a laboratory for analysis. The researchers found that the sensor was able to identify different patterns of protein levels in human blood serum in the three groups.
Will the test be available from your family doctor in the future?
Professor William Rosenberg explains: Liver disease is the third leading cause of premature mortality in the UK and one of the few leading causes of death that is increasing. It is hoped that the novel test can be routinely used in general practice and hospital clinics to examine people who are at increased risk of liver disease but who have no signs of liver damage, the expert adds. This is how people with severe fibrosis could be identified. Those affected can then be treated before it is too late and the consequences of the disease threaten them to die. (as)