Press Release

Monday, 17 June 2019

Almost two million euros for liver research in Düsseldorf and Hannover

New network seeks to enhance understanding of genetic causes of cholestasis – and develop treatment options

A tremendous success for university medicine in Hannover and Düsseldorf: Germany’s federal research ministry (BMBF) is funding – to the tune of 1.9m euros, spread over the next three years – a network focussing on research into rare congenital liver diseases. Within this network, called HIChol, physicians and researchers at Hannover Medical School (MHH), the University Hospital of Düsseldorf (the coordinating centre) and Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) will collaborate to improve understanding of what is known as cholestatic liver disease and, over the long term, enhance healthcare for those affected.

Cholestasis is a disorder where the formation of bile, or its secretion from the liver to the gut, is compromised. The condition may be acquired or else be caused by hereditary (i.e. genetic) changes. Clinical presentation of hereditary intrahepatic cholestasis is highly variable, ranging from milder forms such as pregnancy cholestasis to highly severe manifestations collectively called progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC). The latter occur in only one in 50,000 births, but account for as much as 10–15% of hereditary cholestasis cases.

Mutations in cholestasis-associated genes often cause ongoing damage to the liver. They adversely affect liver function and may lead to full fibrosis or cirrhosis of the liver, or even to liver cancer. A liver transplant is currently the only curative treatment option for cases that are severe in their progression.

The consortium’s goals are to identify new mutations and to functionally characterize the already known mutations that result in severe cholestasis. “We would like this research to culminate in our having identified options for therapeutic intervention,” stresses the network’s coordinator, Professor Dr Verena Keitel-Anselmino of the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Infectiology at the University Hospital of Düsseldorf.

“New avenues for research using stem cell-derived liver organoids will allow us to explore the effect of the mutations we have found on cell processes and bile formation,” says Tobias Cantz, Professor of Translational Hepatology and Stem Cell Biology at MHH. “Another chief aim of the network is to set up a disease registry for hereditary intrahepatic cholestasis that will, going forward, help improve healthcare for patients with these rare diseases,” adds Professor Ulrich Baumann from MHH’s Department of Paediatric Kidney, Liver and Metabolic Diseases.

A photo is attached. It shows Professor Ulrich Baumann, Dr Eva-Doreen Pfister, Dr Amelie Stalke and Professor Tobias Cantz (all of MHH). You may use it free of charge if you give the source as ‘MHH/Kaiser’.

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