A new study tries to determine why only a certain percentage of late-stage alcoholics develop cirrhosis.
SCIENTISTS in Sydney will investigate why some heavy drinkers are more likely than others to suffer the potentially fatal long-term effects of alcohol. It will be a world-first study, as concern increases about the failure of public health campaigns to curb drinking rates.
Up to 5000 people with alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver will be tested to try to identify genetic triggers of the disease. The $2.5 million international study is the largest undertaken into the deadly condition.
A professor of addiction medicine at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Paul Haber, said funding for cirrhosis research was ”relatively neglected”. It is hoped the study will also show why some people develop the disease despite relatively moderate alcohol consumption, Professor Haber said.
”People are drinking more for a number of reasons, and we hope this study could help us at least identify those at greatest risk of disease,” he said.
He compared cirrhosis to lung cancer, in that people were ”unlucky” to develop either disease, despite the contribution of their own behaviour.
The lead researcher, Dr Devanshi Seth, said there was ”convincing evidence” for a genetic basis predisposing some people to develop cirrhosis from all levels of alcohol consumption.
”We think there are several genes that together can work in such a way to cause liver disease, which is also influenced by diet, mental health, viral infection and gender,” Dr Seth said.
The US National Institutes of Health is funding the study, which will include participants from six countries, including the US, Britain and France. Patients with cirrhosis will be examined alongside decade-long heavy drinkers without the disease.
Alcoholic liver disease affects 15 per cent of heavy drinkers worldwide. The cost to Australia is $3.8 billion a year, Dr Seth said.