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$450,000 Gift from Friends of the SLU Liver Center Marks 15 Years of Progress

by Carrie Bebermeyer on 03/05/2018
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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 and disease. 

Friends of the SLU Liver Center present check

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 organization.

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 virus.

“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.

Gift from Young Friends of the SLU Liver Center

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.” 

Friends Grants Through the Years

  • John Tavis, Ph.D., Molecular Microbiology & Immunology

    Investigating the variation in NTP use by the HCV polymerase and response to therapy

  •  Yie-Hwa Chang, Ph.D., Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

    The study of serum biomarker candidates identified for early detection of liver cancer confirmed by western blot analysis

  •  Mark Schnitzler, Ph.D. & Fashi Kanwal, M.D., Center of Outcomes Research & Division of Gastroenterology/Hepatology

    Identified 26,000 patients with laboratory evidence of chronic Hepatitis C. 

  •  Sarah L. George, M.D., Infectious Diseases

    Conducted the first human trials in North American of a Hepatitis C vaccine

  •  Bruce Bacon, M.D. & Robert Britton, Ph.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology

    Study of new information about molecular mechanisms by which iron regulates hepatic hepcidin expression

  •  Alex Befeler, M.D. & Kathleen Wyrwich, Ph.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology & Research Methodology

    “When a Cure Isn’t Possible” - post publication exploration of quality of life of patients with incurable liver cancer to improve clinical decisions

  •  Robert Fleming, M.D., Pediatric Neonatology

    Identification of proteins which interact with intracellular domain of transferrin receptor 2 to determine the regulation of iron by the liver

  •  Elizabeth Brunt, M.D., Pathology

    Evaluate histologic lesions as potential precursor of hepatocellular carcinoma

  •  Brent A. Tetri, M.D.,  Gastroenterology/Hepatology
    Development of new model of fatty liver disease based upon consumption of fast-food diet
  •  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)
  • Brent A. Tetri, M.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology & Research Methodology
    Trans fat laboratory research project
  • Cindy Cai, M.D., Ph.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology
    Funding for the purchase of laboratory supplies
  •  Kiyoko Oshima, M.D., Pathology
    Funding for scanner to develop liver biopsy data
  •  GI & Hepatology Clinical Research Unit
    Purchase of medical equipment
  •  Jeffrey Teckman, M.D., Pediatric Gastroenterology/Hepatology 
    Therapeutic Mechanisms of nor-Ursodeoxycholic Acid
  • Robert Fleming, M.D., Neonatology
    Role of HFE in modulating the effort of non-transferrin=bound-iron hepcidin expression
  • Adrian De Bisceglie, M.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology
    Funding for Hepatitis B initiative for the Asian community
  • Ratna Ray, Ph.D., Pathology 
    Investigating Hepatitis C virus infection of primary human hepatocytes and micro RNA modulation
  • Brent Tetri, M.D.,  Gastroenterology/Hepatology
    Exploring the pathogenesis of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
  • David Wang, Ph.D.,  Gastroenterology/Hepatology
    Determining the role of SHP in regulating biliary cholesterol secretion
  • Mark Schnitzler, Ph.D., Center for Outcomes Research 
    Support outcomes research and evaluation in liver transplantation
  • Liver Center Research Labs
    Purchase of medical equipment
  •  Xiaofeng Fan, M.D., Ph.D. & Ratna Ray, Ph.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology & Pathology 
    The study of cell culture system for Hepatitis C Virus Genotype 1a
  • Anping Chen, Ph.D., Pathology 
    Investigating molecular mechanisms of curcumin in eliminating the inhibitory effects of AGE’s on regulating gene expression of AGE-R1 in HSCs
  • John Tavis, Ph.D., Molecular Microbiology & Immunology
    Improvement of Hepatitis B virus RNS she assays in support of novel antiviral drug development
  • Mark Schnitzler, Ph.D.,  Center for Outcomes Research 
    Defining value in liver transplantation
  • Adam Gehring Ph.D.,  Molecular Microbiology & Immunology 
    Study of immunological profile of the normal human liver
  • Mustafa Nazzal, M.D.,  Center for Abdominal Transplant Surgery 
    The impact of different types of liver targeted therapies for hepatocellular carcinoma on post liver transplant recurrence and mortality
  • Xiaofeng Fan, M.D., Ph.D., Gastroenterology/Hepatology -
    Investigating liquid biopsy in hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Ranjit Ray, Ph.D., Infectious Diseases & Immunology 
    Enhancement of Hepatitis C virus envelope glycoprotein vaccine response by regulating T-helper cell function
  • Dorota Skowyra, Ph.D., Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 
    Study of the proteasome load tolerance in alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • Ajay Jain, M.D., Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition 
    The role of glucagon like peptides (GLPs) in total parenteral nutrition
  • GI & Hepatology Clinical Research Unit
    Purchase of equipment & materials
  •  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.