TGEN researching liver disease in Latino youth

Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Arizona State University and Phoenix...
Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Arizona State University and Phoenix Children’s Hospital are working together to help research nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, called NAFLD, that’s rising among children, especially Latino youth.(Getty Images)
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 9:54 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Arizona State University and Phoenix Children’s Hospital are working together to help research nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, called NAFLD, that’s rising among children, especially Latino youth.

This chronic condition can progress to even more severe forms but so far, experts haven’t been able to figure out which children are at higher risk than others. Check out the most recent study funded by a 5-year grant of $3.9 million from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease from TGen here. The upcoming project will be combining the study results with even further research.

Professor Johanna DiStefano, head of TGen’s Metabolic and Fibrotic Disease Program, is using advanced techniques to identify the possibility of fatty liver disease in children. “Pediatric NAFLD is associated with poor long-term outcomes such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even increased liver-related mortality in adulthood,” DiStefano said. “How exactly this happens—what cellular and molecular mechanisms contribute to this metabolic dysfunction and what roles are played by diet, lifestyle, and environment—are still poorly understood.”

Preliminary data forming the foundation for this study showed that if there was a lifestyle intervention in the lives of those children diagnosed with NAFLD, there was a marked improvement in the child’s health. ASU will provide samples and data from Latino youth with obesity and mild liver disease before and after intervention. Phoenix Children’s will provide samples and data from Latino youth with advanced liver disease, and Cincinnati Children’s will provide samples and data from Caucasian and African American youth with the disease who’ve had surgery and whose liver disease was resolved.

Professor Gabriel Shaibi, director of ASU’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and co-principal investigator for the study, said, “We will also explore how changes in liver fat storage after clinical intervention may alter molecular markers of the disease. In the future, these findings could help doctors to develop better methods to diagnose and treat fatty liver disease in kids.”

The team hopes that their study will shed fresh light on the disease processes that make NAFLD so dangerous in children and identify improved methods for detecting the disease in earlier stages.