The liver performs many critical metabolic functions, including processing and distribution of nutrients. Liver diseases can be caused by infection, such as hepatitis B and C, or by genetic mutations. Other liver diseases can be triggered by autoimmune reactions or drug toxicity. The rise in obesity in the United States has led to a rise in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Many liver diseases place individuals at higher risk for developing liver cancer.
The only current treatment for end-stage liver disease is a liver transplant, and the number of livers available from deceased donors is limited. Thus NIDDK-supported liver research focuses on identifying liver disease early, preserving liver function in people with liver disease, and developing new treatment options, including transplants performed with liver tissue from living donors.
Other NIDDK-funded research is investigating the role gut microbes may play in the progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and in understanding how the body’s natural killer T cells can activate an immune response to hepatitis B.
In a collaborative effort with the National Library of Medicine, NIDDK has developed LiverTox, an online resource for drug-induced liver injury, providing a “living textbook” with case reports, patient information, and a database of over 700 drugs and supplements.