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Novel blood test can now detect liver disease before symptoms appear

UCL researchers have developed a blood test that can detect the early stages of liver scarring (liver fibrosis) that, if left unchecked, can lead to irreversible fatal liver disease. 

Liver disease, which is one of the few leading causes of death on the increase and which is currently the third biggest cause of premature death in the UK, is usually asymptomatic and goes unnoticed, often until damage is irreversible and untreatable. 

The new test produces results within 30 to 45 minutes and researchers hope it will be used routinely in clinics and GP surgeries and may possibly lead to a screening programme.

A team of researchers from UCL and University of Massachusetts collaborated on the study. Researchers from University of Massachusetts designed the sensor that allows proteins within the blood to bind to large molecules, causing a change in colour and brightness. The ‘fingerprint’ created allows different patterns of protein levels in the blood to be identified, which can detect early and late stage liver fibrosis.

The team at UCL adapted this technology and tested the sensor by comparing results from blood samples in three balanced groups, including patients with no fibrosis and those with early-stage and late-stage fibrosis.

Co-lead author of the study, BRC-supported Professor William Rosenberg, said: “We hope that our new test could be used on a routine basis in GP surgeries and hospital clinics to screen people who face an elevated risk of liver disease, but don’t yet show signs of liver damage to identify those with serious fibrosis, so that they can access treatment before it’s too late. This may open the door to a cost-effective regular screening programme thanks to its simplicity, low cost and robustness”.

To read the full paper see Advanced Materials.