Researchers Target NAFLD, NASH Using Lab-on-a-Chip Technology


For years, companies have struggled to develop treatments for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a disease that is growing across the world and is predicted to become the main cause of chronic liver problems and the need for liver transplantation.

Companies like Genentech, Gilead Sciences, Gemphire, Curis, Bioclinica, Viking Therapeutics and more have been in the research trenches trying to develop the first approved treatment for this indication. So far the research has not made it through the regulatory process, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Research into NAFLD, which is estimated to affect 30 to 40% of adults in the United States, could get a boost due to research being conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital. A team of scientists at the hospital developed a “lab-on-a-chip” technology that can simulate different levels of NAFLD progression in cells across a single continuous tissue. The research could help boost research into the disease and identify potential new treatments for this disease of the liver.

The research can be used to evaluate the effects of different drivers of NAFLD on liver cells, including fat and oxygen concentrations. By doing so, the researchers believe the technology will allow for more detailed studies of the disease progression. The researchers said they can also add other influences of disease progression, such as inflammatory cues, in order to examine its impact on the disease. In addition, the lab on a chip platform can be used to assess investigational drugs’ effects on NAFLD progression, therefore revealing their potential for further testing in clinical trials, the Massachusetts General Hospital team said in its announcement.

The findings of their study were posted in an article in the journal Lab-on-a-Chip.

O. Berk Usta, the senior author of the study and an investigator in the Center for Engineering in Medicine at the hospital, said the platform developed by the team is unique in that “one continuous liver tissue on a single chip, we are able to look at different severities of the disease and to study how liver tissue might respond to both triggers of NAFLD as well as different therapeutic approaches.” Usta said further studies are needed, particularly into more complex cases of NAFLD, but noted that the current platform established a basis for lab-based drug efficacy screening for NAFLD. By doing so, Usta said such a strategy may help accelerate the search for effective drugs for NAFLD conditions that range from benign fat accumulation to more serious complications including fibrosis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.

NAFLD is a condition in which excess fat is stored in the liver and is not caused by heavy alcohol use. NAFLD is one of the most common causes of liver disease in the United States, and a precursor to NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis).


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