Fatty Liver Disease: Fighting the ‘Silent Epidemic’ Boosted by Genetic Testing and Lifestyle Support for At-Risk Americans
The Fatty Liver Foundation (FLF) has partnered with British start-up Sano Genetics to offer non-invasive genetic testing and community support to Americans at risk of and living with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis . (NASH).
The partnership aims to further close the knowledge gap on inherited risk factors with home DNA testing, as well as provide individuals with personalized opportunities to learn how to reduce their risk through their lifestyle and their diet, to keep abreast of new developments in treatments and research, and to participate in medical research and clinical trials themselves.
FLF’s Undiagnosed NAFLD and NASH (SUNN) Screening Program has already screened more than 1,000 asymptomatic and at-risk American adults for both conditions, with published results end of 2021. SUNN program expands with goal of screening 20,000 people in 20 US cities.
Sano Genetics, which combines a private-by-design technology platform and at-home testing to accelerate genetic disease research, has a strong track record of recruiting and maintaining participant engagement and education at the study, having launched a number of studies on the long Covid, irritable bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Progress can’t come soon enough. The number of NAFLD cases in people over the age of 15 in the United States is expected to increase exponentially due to the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes. By 2030, the overall prevalence of NAFLD is expected to reach 33.5%, with NASH increasing to 27%.
And worrying new data reveals that 42% of Americans report unwanted weight gains since the start of the pandemic. Adults who gained weight gained an average of 29 pounds, rising to 38 pounds among essential workers.
Fatty liver disease currently affects approximately 100 million Americans, although most are unaware they have it. Current medical standards policy is not to screen for liver disease unless people are sick and have symptoms.
Some 20 million people will go on to develop NAFLD, which is characterized by fatty or fatty liver cell infiltration, liver inflammation, liver cell damage, and fibrosis or scarring of the liver. And 5 million will progress to NASH, an advanced form of NAFLD, which is clinically significant and can lead to progressive liver fibrosis, cirrhosis and eventually advanced liver disease, liver cancer and death.
Despite recent scientific and medical advances, there is currently no effective pharmaceutical treatment for NAFLD. Currently, the only proven effective therapy is sustained weight loss achieved through diet and exercise or bariatric surgery. Early and comprehensive interventions, such as lifestyle and diet changes, can help halt progression, preserve liver function, and maintain quality of life.
In addition to the focus on early detection and screening, the SUNN program will match participants interested in clinical trials with opportunities to participate, including precision medicine trials using genetic markers such as PNPLA3.
Several research studies have shown that NAFLD/NASH can be inherited and can be influenced by many different genetic changes. Liver fibrosis has been shown to be an inherited trait, while family history can also impact the chances of developing the disease, particularly if a first-degree relative has NAFLD/NASH.
Wayne Eskridge, Founder and CEO of the Fatty Liver Foundation, says: “Genetic testing for NAFLD and NASH is critical to improving early detection of this largely asymptomatic and silent epidemic. It has the potential to usher in a new era of ‘precision liver health‘ that can improve our ability to provide the right liver health intervention to the right population at the right time.
“With the expertise and capabilities of Sano Genetics, we can help more people understand their inherited risk of NAFLD/NASH, detect it earlier, and potentially treat it more effectively.” Our partnership adds a whole new dimension to our SUNN program and we are excited about the opportunities for individuals and their families to support their prevention or treatment plans, as well as facilitating opportunities for them to participate in clinical trials.
Dr. Patrick Short, co-founder and CEO of Sano Genetics, says: “Genomics is key to early detection of this disease which often goes undiagnosed until symptoms present in later stages. If we can locate DNA markers that indicate predisposition in healthy or asymptomatic people, then early intervention becomes more likely. A better understanding of the genetic factors and underlying biology of NAFLD/NASH will also pave the way for more effective targeted therapies. The FLF has been doing excellent work for many years and we are proud to provide our technology and genetic testing capabilities to facilitate a proactive approach to slowing down and treating fatty liver conditions.