New tool can detect chemical changes in DNA associated with liver fibrosis.
In a study published in Gut, researchers created a blood test that measures epigenetic markers to stratify patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) into mild or severe liver scarring.
Since most patients do not show symptoms and routine blood tests cannot detect scarring, liver scarring mostly goes undetected until the late stage when symptoms manifest.
Physicians have to rely on liver biopsy to measure fibrosis in early stages.
Researchers developed this test using 26 patients with NAFLD. The test detects chemical changes on “cell-free” DNA in the blood, which are released during liver injury.
Specifically, the test measures changes in DNA methylation in genes that control scar formation, such as PPARγ in order to detect fibrosis severity.
Patients are then stratified according to the test results.
"This is the first time that a DNA methylation 'signature' from the blood has been shown to match the severity of a liver disease,” said Dr Jelena Mann in a press release. "It opens up the possibility of an improved blood test for liver fibrosis in the future."
Researchers are now trying to confirm these study results in a larger group. They are hopeful that this new test can provide patients with reassurance and keep them from having an unnecessary liver biopsy.