New method found for measuring the treatment of rare liver disease in children

Digital composite of highlighted painful liver of woman / healthcare
© iStock/Milena Shehovtsova

The study by UCLA researchers examines the role of the small molecule in children with a rare liver disease

In a new study, the UCLA researchers have identified the way specific genes change after fish oil treatment is started. The research team who previously found that intravenous administration of fish oil can treat a rare but potentially deadly form of liver disease in children have now monitored levels of a small molecule at the centre of the disorder to track treatment results.

Measuring levels of the molecule

Dr Kara L. Calkins, first author of a study published in the Journal of Nutrition said: “Our study sheds light on some of the mechanisms by which IV fish oil helps treat this disease. It also suggests that measuring levels of the molecule might someday be used to diagnose and monitor this and other liver diseases without the need for biopsies.”

Calkins participated in the study with colleagues at the Neonatal Research Center of the UCLA Children’s Discovery and Innovation Institute, the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.

The first study to measure miR-122

When the liver suffers damage, the small molecule, micro-RNA 122, or miR-122, is released into the bloodstream. The scientists explained that this is the first study to measure miR-122 in children with intestinal failure-associated liver disease or IFALD.

The risk factors for the disease include prematurity, sepsis, and altered intestinal permeability, a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins can “leak” through the intestinal wall.

The study involved 14 children ages three months to five years old who were successfully treated with pure fish oil administered intravenously. Blood samples were collected at various times throughout the study to measure the level of the molecule in their bodies. Calkins said larger clinical trials will be needed to confirm results.

Laboratory tests are not always reliable

Dr Sherin Devaskar, lead author of the study and physician-in-chief of UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and professor of paediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine said: “Liver disease is a major health problem that can result in liver failure, the need for a liver transplant or even death.”

This is because laboratory tests are not always accurate in predicting or diagnosing the disease, liver biopsy is the current standard treatment.

Devaskar concluded: “One of our research goals is to find inexpensive, practical and accurate tests that predict and diagnose liver disease and provide an accurate measure of treatment response,

“This study suggests that plasma miR-122 may serve as a non-invasive marker of liver disease in children with IFALD, and we believe it could be an important surrogate for other liver diseases.”

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