February 21, 2012

Nancy Solomon

SLU Doctor Investigates Silent, Cancer-Causing Liver Disease

$50,000 Grant from Lottie Caroline Hardy Charitable Trust Funds Research

ST. LOUIS -- A Saint Louis University liver disease specialist has received a $50,000 grant from the Lottie Caroline Hardy Charitable Trust to continue studying a silent disease caused by excess fat and inflammation in the liver that is linked to cancer.

Brent Tetri, M.D.

Brent Tetri, M.D., director of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, is using a mouse model to examine the connection between a fast food diet and an illness called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an exploding epidemic associated with obesity and a sedentary life style.

"NASH is common, probably seen in 5 to 10 percent of people, including children," Tetri says. "The condition puts people at risk for developing cirrhosis and liver cancer, which is the cancer with the fastest rising mortality rate. With the grant, we will continue studying NASH in mice, with the goal of understanding more about its cause and connection to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer."

Fueled by a diet that is high in fats and sugars, the number of NASH cirrhosis cases in the U.S. has dramatically increased in recent years and NASH cirrhosis occurs even in children. Likewise, despite medical advances, deaths from liver cancer also have shot up.

"Cancer researchers from around the world are focusing on liver cancer," Tetri said. "However, our group is the only one to look at the role of a fast food diet, and especially trans-fats, in the development of liver cancer. Our study of how diet affects the development of disease is an example of the multi-faceted research at Saint Louis University, which also includes studies at the SLU Cancer Center."

Tetri and his team have developed a mouse model of NASH. In earlier studies, mice were fed a fast food-type diet that included a high level of trans-fats, which are in French fries, chicken nuggets and many snack foods, and high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient in soda. Scientists already knew that this type of diet is linked to heart disease, and Tetri saw the diet also caused liver disease.

The mice developed severe NASH after four months, early signs of cirrhosis after 12 months and liver cancer by 18 months.

Additionally, the mice that were fed high fructose corn syrup ate more than other mice, indicating that fructose likely suppresses the feeling of being satisfied and full.

"The take home message for people is when you have a Coke next to that Whopper, chances are, you'll finish that Whopper," Tetri said.

With funding from the Lottie Caroline Hardy Charitable Trust, Tetri will spend the next 18 months performing detailed analysis of liver damage in mice that are fed a diet that is high in trans-fats.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, aging and brain disease and heart/lung disease.

Learn about the Saint Louis University Cancer Center.
Read about Dr. Brent Tetri.
Find out more about NASH

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