Liver Disease: New Pioneering Diagnostic Method in Sight?

Liver Disease: New Pioneering Diagnostic Method in Sight?

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Improved diagnosis of liver disease in prospect?

A novel, microbial-based diagnostic method appears to be able to quickly and inexpensively identify liver fibrosis and cirrhosis in humans in over 90 percent of cases.

In a recent joint study by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the University of California, San Diego, a novel diagnostic tool for liver diseases was tested. The results of the research work were published in the English-language journal "Cell Metabolism".

How widespread are chronic liver diseases?

Chronic liver disease is a major global public health problem affecting an estimated 844 million people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Chronic liver disease is one of the most common causes of premature death in many countries. One reason for this may be that chronic liver diseases are often not recognized or recognized too late because they only cause complaints at a very advanced stage.

Diagnostic tool had an accuracy of 90 percent

The researchers found that the microbiome (the complex accumulation of microbes in the intestine) can indicate liver diseases. Therefore, they have created a diagnostic tool based on microbes. In the current study, she was able to diagnose liver fibrosis and cirrhosis with impressive accuracy of 90 percent. The non-invasive method is based on an algorithm for analyzing human stool samples.

Results could have a global impact

"The microbiome is a dynamic living sensor for small changes in health and disease in the body, and as such it provides an accurate indication of body health," study author Professor Ronald Evans of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies said in a press release. Since this diagnosis is quick and inexpensive, it can be widely used. Simply put, it could be a real turning point with global implications, the expert adds.

Consequences of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the leading cause of chronic liver disease worldwide and can lead to liver fibrosis and cirrhosis and, at worst, to cancer. Unfortunately, there is a lack of diagnostic instruments for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. Biopsies are invasive and can miss affected areas of the liver. Magnetic resonance imaging is expensive and is not available everywhere.

Microbiome for the diagnosis of liver diseases?

To find a new way of diagnosis, the research group examined the microbiome as a way of identifying people with an increased risk of liver disease. The researchers attempted to develop a universal, non-invasive test for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis based on a microbiome signature of the disease. The team used machine learning to identify a relationship between the disease signature and 19 types of bacteria from stool samples.

Bacteria to identify liver fibrosis and cirrhosis

The signature is made up of different amounts of bacteria, which means that a universal fingerprint can be created to identify liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. The study included 163 clinical samples from both healthy and sick family members to identify variables that indicated liver disease.

Special microbiome signature indicates cirrhosis of the liver

Using data from the genetic profiling of the microbiome and metabolites from the stool samples, the researchers also discovered a microbiome signature that can diagnose cirrhosis of the liver with an accuracy of 94 percent. The microbiome signature was also able to determine the stage of the liver damage.

Effects of gut health on liver diseases

“These results show that it is possible to use machine learning to identify a universal signature that can be used to accurately diagnose a disease such as cirrhosis. The patterns we found reflect the complexity of the microbiome and show how gut health is likely to affect the disease, ”says study author Tae Gyu Oh.

Microbiome signature tested on independent patient populations

The researchers then applied the microbiome signature to two independent patient populations from China and Italy. The team was able to precisely identify cirrhosis in over 90 percent of the patients, which confirms the performance and accuracy of the algorithm with different genetic properties and eating habits.

New diagnostic method is just beginning

It is noteworthy that an intestinal microbiome signature could be used by people from Southern California to predict cirrhosis in two independent cohorts in China and Italy, the research team emphasizes. In her opinion, the possibilities of using the microbiome as a diagnostic tool are only just beginning.

Further research is planned

In the future, the causal relationship between the microbiome and liver diseases will be investigated further. For example, it should be checked whether the restoration of parts of the microbiome leads to a regression of the disease or the removal of certain bacteria aggravates the disease. The researchers hope that this approach can be used to characterize other diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, colon cancer, Alzheimer's and other diseases that are likely to be affected by a dysregulated microbiome. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Tae Gyu Oh, Susy M. Kim, Cyrielle Caussy, Ting Fu, Jian Guo et al .: A Universal Gut-Microbiome-Derived Signature Predicts Cirrhosis, in Cell Metabolism (Posted Jun 30, 2020), Cell Metabolism
  • Giant leap in diagnosing liver disease, Salk Institute for Biological Studies (published 07/01/2020), Salk Institute for Biological Studies

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