Fifteen years ago, a group of civic leaders, physicians and patients started the Friends
of the Saint Louis University Liver Center to help those living with liver cancer
Friends of the Saint Louis University Liver Center presented a check for $450,000
to members of the SLU Liver Center last week. From left to right, Brent Tetri, M.D.,
director of gastroenterology and hepatology, Adrian Di Bisceglie, M.D., co-director
of the SLU Liver Center, Bruce Bacon, M.D., co-director of the SLU Liver Center, Kevin
Behrns, M.D., dean of the medical school, and Rochelle Henderson, Ph.D., chair-elect
of the Friends organization. Photo by Simon Nguyen.
With a gift of $450,000 raised at their annual “Diamonds” gala and other events throughout
the past year, the Friends celebrated its anniversary with continued support of liver
research, patient care and education at SLU’s Liver Center. An additional gift of
$12,500 was raised by the Young Friends of the Liver Center.
Executive director of the Friends of the Saint Louis University Liver Center Sue Adams
credits the generosity of donors and volunteers for the enduring success of the philanthropic
SLUCare liver specialists in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Saint
Louis University School of Medicine and SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital
care for more than 1,500 patients per month, with one of the largest hepatitis C practices
in the world.
Bruce Bacon, M.D., co-director of the SLU Liver Center and professor of internal
medicine, says that the generosity of Friends donors and volunteers has played a vital
role in supporting SLU faculty members as they have advanced liver care on many fronts.
Contributions over the last 15 years to the Friends have made a significant impact,
raising over $4.2 million in support of clinical and basic science research, medical
equipment and technology, patient care and educational opportunities sponsored by
the Liver Center. Moreover, the impact of initial seed research grants funded by the
Friends has been instrumental in securing over $18 million in NIH funding for the
continuation of advanced research initiatives to improve patient care.
SLU Liver Center Success Stories
The SLU Liver Center has made great contributions in three areas of liver disease
-- hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and fatty liver disease, said Adrian Di Bisceglie, M.D.,
co-director of the SLU Liver Center and professor of internal medicine at SLU.
Di Bisceglie and Bacon played major roles in conquering hepatitis C, most recently
in helping develop the latest generation of drugs that now can cure patients of the
“Members of the SLU Liver Center were intimately involved in the development of the
antiviral agents that now make it possible to cure almost all patients with hepatitis
C,” Di Bisceglie said. “We did this by enrolling large numbers of patients into clinical
trials aimed at testing and perfecting the new drugs as they were being developed.”
Di Bisceglie notes that SLU has emerged as a major center in research on hepatitis
B through work done by John Tavis, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology and
immunology, in developing a new class of drugs aimed at treating hepatitis B, and
that SLU remains an active participant in the NIH-funded Hepatitis B research Network
(HBRN), a North American network of sites dedicated to studying hepatitis B as it
occurs in North America.
“We have positioned ourselves as leaders in research in fatty liver disease, a condition
that is becoming increasingly important,” Di Bisceglie said. “Dr. Brent Tetri is an
international authority on this liver disease and advises many companies as they try
to develop treatments for it. In addition, Dr. Tetri leads our participation in the
NIH-funded NASH Clinical Research Network.”
In each of these cases, Di Bisceglie credits the Friends organization for its important
role in SLU’s success.
“They helped promote our clinical trials and thus provided access to these new treatments
for hundreds of patients,” Di Bisceglie said. “Some of the funds they raised were
used as seed grants to support new research projects and to support our staff who
conducted pivotal clinical trials.
For instance, seed grants were critical to help Tetri, director of gastroenterology
and hepatology and professor of internal medicine at SLU, and his laboratory develop
and perfect a mouse animal model of fatty liver disease which can be used to study
how the disease occurs and how it can be treated, Di Bisceglie says.
The Young Friends of the SLU Liver Center presented a check for $12,500. Pictured
are Jen Sanwald, Brent Tetri, M.D., Adrian Di Bisceglie, M.D., Bruce Bacon, M.D., Kevin Behrns, M.D.,
and Leslie Hodges. Photo by Simon Nguyen.
On the Horizon
From these past successes, the Liver Center and Friends are looking to the future
and anticipate that more advances are on the horizon.
“SLU has an outstanding national and international reputation in leading discoveries
in liver disease for close to three decades and I expect to see this continue with
younger hepatologists,” said Tetri, who is a SLUCare liver doctor. “Major liver diseases
facing us now include fatty liver disease and liver cancer, both of which have become
major reasons that patients are needing liver transplants.
Tetri notes that younger hepatologists at SLU are garnering increasing recognition
for their contributions to the field.
“SLU is now on the forefront with studies to prevent and cure fatty liver disease
and through the work of SLU hepatologists like Dr. Alex Befeler, we are also participating
in novel approaches to treat liver cancer,” Tetri said.
“Much of this work has been made possible through the support by the Friends of the
Liver Center by supporting the infrastructure for liver research at SLU and by providing
seed grants that allow our talented investigators to gather enough data to successfully
obtain funding from the NIH to continue their important work. I look forward to continued
success of the Liver Center in no small part due to the overwhelming generosity of
those who donate to the Friends of the Liver Center.”
Jeffrey Teckman, M.D. & Nancy Marcus, Ph.D., Pediatric Gastroenterology/Hepatology Study of how genetic diseases can trigger liver cancer related to alpha-1-antitrypsin
deficiency and risk factors related to Hepatitis C
Cindy Cai, M.D., Ph.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology Examination of molecular mechanisms underlying the dysregulation of insulin-mediated
hepatic metabolism in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NASH)
John Tavis, Ph.D., Molecular Microbiology & Immunology Defining the HBV & RNA stem loop as a novel anti-HBV drug target
Mustafa Nazzal, M.D., Center for Abdominal Transplant Surgery Participating in a national study investigating post orthotopic liver transplant immunosuppression
regimens and post transplant hepatocellular carcinoma recurrence
Brent A. Tetri, M.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology Investigating the role of RGD-binding integrins in NASH and NASH fibrosis
Ratna Ray, Ph.D., Pathology Establishment of PDX models in liver cancer patients
Keith Pereira, M.D., Interventional Radiology
GI & Hepatology Clinical Research Unit Purchase of equipment & materials
Brent A. Tetri, M.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology Clinical Research Unit Purchase of equipment & materials
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, liver disease, heart/lung disease,
aging and brain disease, and infectious diseases.