Liver Shorts -February 2021 (part 1)

T Mayr et al. JPGN 2021; 72: 115-122. Optimized Trientine-dihydrochloride Therapy in Pediatric Patients With Wilson Disease: Is Weight-based Dosing Justified?

In this retrospective study with 31 children with Wilson’s disease (most of whom had had previous penicillamine), those who received more than 20 mg/kg/day of trientine therapy had increased adverse effects compared to those who received less than 20 mg/kg/day: 63% vs 7%; median followup was 60 months. In addition, there was not increased response to higher doses. The authors note that trientine had lower incidence of adverse effects compared to penicillamine and “appears to be the preferred” as a first-line treatment.

J Teckman et al. (ChiLDReN Network). J Pediatr 2020; 227: 81-86. Longitudinal Outcomes in Young Patients with Alpha-1-Antitrypsin Deficiency with Native Liver Reveal that Neonatal Cholestasis is a Poor Predictor of Future Portal Hypertension

In this prospective cohort with 350 participants (all with either PiZZ (90%) or PiSZ (10%) and native livers), 278 (79%) entered the cohort (in 2007 or later) without portal hypertension and 18 developed portal hypertension during follow-up. Portal hypertension was defined by development of ascites, varices or combination of splenomegaly/thrombocytopenia. Thirty participants required liver transplantation; 2 patients died during 1077 person-years of follow-up. Median length of followup was 2.5 years. My take: While most children with Alpha-1-Antitrypsin Deficiency do well, monitoring is warranted as some will develop progressive liver disease (even in the absence of neonatal cholestasis).

SA Harrison et al. Gastroenterol 2021: 160: 219-231. Full text PDF: Efficacy and Safety of Aldafermin, an Engineered FGF19 Analog, in a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Patients With Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis

In this phase 2 double-blind study with 78 patients with NASH, at week 24, the aldafermin group had a significant reduction in absolute liver fat content (reduction of 7.7%) compared with placebo (reduction of 2.7%) (P=.002). Fibrosis improvement (1 stage) with no worsening of NASH was achieved in 38% of patients receiving aldafermin vs 18% of
patients receiving placebo (P = .10). And, NASH resolution with no worsening of fibrosis was observed in 24% of patients given aldafermin vs 9% of patients given placebo (P = .20)

A Chanpong, A Dhawan. JPGN; 2021: 72: 210-215. Long-Term Urinary Copper Excretion on Chelation Therapy in Children with Wilson Disease Key finding:  24-hour UCE decreases to ≤8 μmol/day and <6 μmol/day after 1 and 5 years of treatment, respectively.

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Surprise, Surprise: Inadequate Physical Activity is a Predictor of Fatty Liver Disease (Plus 2)

Briefly noted:

Hepatology 2020; 72: 1556-1568. Inadequate Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Are Independent Predictors of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. D Kim et al found that leisure‐time physical activity (≥150 minutes per week) demonstrated 40% lower odds of NAFLD. This study used the 2007‐2016 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey with 24,588 participants; the authors defined NAFLD based on three noninvasive panels.

Liver Transplantation 2020; 26: 1409-1421. Low Health Literacy Is Associated With Frailty and Reduced Likelihood of Liver Transplant Listing: A Prospective Cohort Study. T Bittermann et al showed that low health literacy was independently associated with physical frailty (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 3.59; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.50‐8.59; P = 0.004) and not being wait‐listed (aOR 1.96; 95% CI, 1.03‐3.75; P = 0.04).

Liver Transplantation 2020; 26: 1477-1491. Impact of Preexisting Inflammatory Bowel Disease on the Outcome of Liver Transplantation for Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis. In this retrospective study with 87 patients who underwent liver transplantation for PSC, 52 (60%) had pre-existing IBD. Key findings:

  • Excluding those who died within the first 3 months, the 10‐year patient survival and graft survival rates were 92.6% and 77.1%, respectively, in the PSC with IBD (PSC‐IBD) group and 97.1% and 83.2% in the isolated PSC group, respectively.
  • The rate of recurrent PSC was 21% in the PSC‐IBD group and 11% in the isolated PSC group

Thus, it appears that having pre-existing IBD did not significantly influence survival after transplantation.

Genetic Testing for Fatty Liver Disease Is Not Ready For Routine Use

A recent study (H Gellert-Kristensen et al. Hepatology 2020; 72: 845-856. Combined Effect of PNPLA3TM6SF2, and HSD17B13 Variants on Risk of Cirrhosis and Hepatocellular Carcinoma in the General Population) describes genetic risk score (GRS) which can stratify the risk of developing cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.

The study utilized data and plasma markers from 110,761 individuals from Copenhagen, Denmark, and 334,691 individuals from the UK Biobank. GRS scores were from 0 to 6 based on three common genetic variants: PNPLA3, TM6SF2, and HSD17B13.

Key finding:

  • A GRS of 5 or 6 (compared to GRS of 0) for fatty liver disease confers up to a 12‐fold higher risk of cirrhosis and up to a 29‐fold higher risk of HCC in individuals from the general population

The editorial by RM Pfeiffer et al (Hepatology 2020; 72: 794-795. Genetic Determinants of Cirrhosis and Hepatocellular Carcinoma Due to Fatty Liver Disease: What’s the Score?) is very helpful in placing the findings in context.

  • Only 0.5% of individuals had a GRS of 5 or 6. “A GRS of 4 [or more] which still conveyed large risks (cirrhosis, OR =5.2; HCC, OR =3.3) was found in approximately 5% of this population.”
  • Using a GRS of 4 or more, the positive predictive value of GRS-based test in the Danish population is “0.008 for cirrhosis and 0.003 for HCC. In other words, among 1000 persons with GRS greater than or equal to 4, only 8 will develop cirrhosis and 3 will develop HCC.”

My take: This study confirms that specific genetic variants increase the risk of complications from fatty liver disease. However, poor predictive value will likely preclude routine application.

Prenatal Liver Pollutants: Perfluoroalkyl Substances

It is very difficult to try to understand potential toxic substances in our environments. Some of the reasons for this are that there are always numerous simultaneous exposures and harm from substances can accrue over long periods. Once a substance is identified, it can take a long time to develop convincing evidence and even longer time frames to try to enact policy changes.

Despite these challenges, fortunately researchers continue to try to tease out these dangerous agents. A recent study (N Stratakis et al. Hepatology 2020; 72: 1758-1770. Free Full text: Prenatal Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Substances Associated With Increased Susceptibility to Liver Injury in Children)

Background/Methods: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are widespread and persistent pollutants that have been shown to have hepatotoxic effects in animal models. However, human evidence is scarce. PFAS chemicals have a myriad industrial/household applications which include nonstick cookware and products that confer resistance to stains. According to the editorial (MC Cave, pg 1518-21), some refer to PFAS as “forever chemicals” due to their decades-long half-lives.

The study authors used data from 1105 mothers and their children (median age 8.2 years) from the European Human Early-Life Exposome cohort. Key findings:

  • High prenatal exposure to PFAS resulted in children who were at higher risk of liver injury (odds ratio, 1.56; 95% confidence interval, 1.21–1.92)
  • PFAS exposure is associated with alterations in key amino acids and lipid pathways characterizing liver injury risk.

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Help Wanted in Hepatology

MW Russo et al. Hepatology 2020; 72: 1444-1454. Modeling the Hepatology Workforce in the United States: A Predicted Critical Shortage

Overall, this article details the estimated shortage of hepatologists in the coming years.

Key points:

  • One of the more interesting suggestions in this article is the need to change the name of specialty training from “transplant hepatology” to “advanced hepatology” to more accurately reflect the type of liver conditions managed by hepatologists.
  •  In 2018, the adult and pediatric workforce included 7,296 and 824 hepatology providers, respectively, composed of hepatologists, gastroenterologists, and advanced practice providers whose practice was ≥50% hepatology
  • The modeling analysis projects that in 2023, 2028, and 2033, there will be shortages of 10%, 23%, and 35% adult hepatology providers, respectively, and 19%, 20%, and 16% pediatric hepatology providers, respectively

The authors note that there are many challenges when predicting workforce needs. The main reasons for the predicted shortfall with hepatology include the following:

  • Older age of current clinicians
  • Increasing amount of liver disease (~34% increase from 2018 to 2033), particularly fatty liver disease. This is happening among adults and children.

Related blog post: Sad Truth: Job Security in Hepatology

From The Onion

Liver Shorts -November 2020 and Georgia’s ACA Waiver

E Zuckerman et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; 18: 2544-53. Full text link: Eight Weeks of Treatment With Glecaprevir/Pibrentasvir Is Safe and Efficacious in an Integrated Analysis of Treatment-Naïve Patients With Hepatitis C Virus Infection

  • “We pooled data from 8 phase 2 or phase 3 trials of treatment-naïve patients with HCV genotype 1 to 6 infections, without cirrhosis or with compensated cirrhosis, who received 8 weeks of glecaprevir/pibrentasvir.” (n=1248) Key finding:  Overall rates of sustained virologic response at post-treatment week 12 were 97.6% (1218 of 1248) in the intention to treat (ITT) and 99.3% (1218 of 1226) in the modified ITT populations.

JA Silverman et al. JPGN 2020; 71: 283-287. Composite Lipid Emulsion for the Infant at Risk of Intestinal Failure–associated Liver Disease: The Canadian Perspective

This review discussed the use of SMOFlipid that includes soybean, medium-chain triglycerides, olive and fish oils. Key points:

  • “Lipid minimization strategies have also been shown to reverse IFALD [intestinal failure associated liver disease]. There are, however, considerable concerns regarding adequate weight gain, compromise to neurodevelopment, and EFAD [essential fatty acid deficiency]”
  • “Thee is actually considerable safety data for CLE [composite lipid emulsion] in neonates, albeit over the short term.”
  • “In Canada, CLE is currently the lipid emulsion of choice for all infants at risk of IFLAD.”

T Mitchell et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; 18: 1584-1591. Decreased Physical Working Capacity in Adolescents With Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Associates With Reduced Iron Availability

  • Methods: “We collected information on weight-adjusted, submaximal physical work capacity (PWC), ultrasound-determined hepatic steatosis, iron indices, and hematologic and metabolic parameters from 390 female and 458 male participants of the Raine Study—a longitudinal study of disease development … in Western Australia”
  • Key finding: “Fourteen percent of the cohort had NAFLD. PWC was significantly reduced in adolescents with NAFLD compared to adolescents without NAFLD (reduction of 0.17 W/kg, P = .0003, adjusted for sex and body mass index [BMI])… we found NAFLD to be associated with decreased cardiorespiratory fitness, independent of BMI. The relationship between transferrin saturation and PWC in adolescents with NAFLD indicates that functional iron deficiency might contribute to reductions in cardiorespiratory fitness.”

In other news, Georgia has received approval for an affordable care act waiver. From the AJC (October 15, 2020): Kemp’s health care waivers win federal approval Two key points:

  • “Thousands of Georgia’s poor and uninsured adults who meet a work or activity requirement will soon be eligible for Medicaid, with perhaps 50,000 added to the rolls within two years…And more than 350,000 very poor, uninsured Georgia adults still won’t meet Georgia’s requirements for Medicaid”
  • “At the same time, the 400,000 Georgians who bought individual health insurance plans on the federal healthcare.gov Affordable Care Act shopping website will find they can’t do that anymore. Instead they will be directed to contact information for private brokers or insurance companies”
These tweets were posted on 11/2/20.

How Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis Alters Outcomes in Inflammatory Bowel Disease

PJ Trivedi et al. Gastroenterol 2020; 159: 915-928. Effects of Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis on Risks of Cancer and Death in People With Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Based on Sex, Race, and Age

Methods: The authors linked prospectively collected data from national health care registries maintained for all adults in England on hospital attendances, imaging and endoscopic evaluations, surgical procedures, cancer, and deaths.

Key findings:

  • Over 10 years, we identified 284,560 incident cases of IBD nationwide; of these, 2588 patients developed PSC. This study excluded patients <18 years of age.
  • Development of PSC was associated with increased risk of death and CRC (hazard ratios [HRs], 3.20 and 2.43, respectively; P < .001) and a lower median age at CRC diagnosis (59 y vs 69 y without PSC; P < .001)
  • Compared to patients with IBD alone, patients with PSC-IBD had a 4-fold higher risk of CRC if they received a diagnosis of IBD at an age younger than 40 years
  • Development of PSC also increased risks of cholangiocarcinoma (HR, 28.46), hepatocellular carcinoma (HR, 21.00), pancreatic cancer (HR, 5.26), and gallbladder cancer (HR, 9.19) ( P < .001 for all)
  • The greatest difference in mortality between the PSC-IBD alone group vs the IBD alone group was for patients younger than 40 years
  • Patients with PSC-UC had >40% risk of colonic resection compared to patients with IBD alone (aHR 1.65)

My take: This study shows the impact the added diagnosis of PSC has for patients with IBD. One of the limitations in assessing outcomes is determining whether someone with IBD has PSC as there are a lot of patients with IBD who have asymptomatic changes in their biliary tree.

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Bariatric Surgery Helps NASH

G Lassailly et al. Gastroenterol 2020; 159: 1290-1301. Bariatric Surgery Provides Long-term Resolution of Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis and Regression of Fibrosis

This was a  prospective study of 180 severely obese patients with biopsy-proven NASH.

Key findings:

  • NASH: At 5 years after bariatric surgery, NASH was resolved, without worsening fibrosis, in samples from 84% of patients (n = 64; 95% confidence interval, 73.1%-92.2%). 
  • Fibrosis: Fibrosis decreased, compared with baseline, in samples from 70.2% of patients (95% CI, 56.6%-81.6%). Fibrosis disappeared from samples from 56% of all patients (95% CI, 42.4%-69.3%) and from samples from 45.5% of patients with baseline bridging fibrosis. 
Graphic Abstract

My take: This study showed that patients with NASH who underwent bariatric surgery had resolution of NASH in liver samples from 84% of patients 5 years later. The reduction of fibrosis was progressive, beginning during the first year and continuing through 5 years.

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Insight Into Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Heterozygosity

CV Schneider, K Hamesch et al. Gastroenterol 2020; 159: 534-548Liver Phenotypes of European Adults Heterozygous or Homozygous for Pi∗Z Variant of AAT (Pi∗MZ vs Pi∗ZZ genotype) and Noncarriers)

Key findings:

  • Ten percent of subjects with the Pi∗MZ genotype vs 4% of noncarriers had LSMs (liver stiffness measurements) of 7.1 kPa or more (adjusted odds ratio, 4.8; 95% confidence interval, 2.0–11.8)
  • Obesity and diabetes were the most important factors associated with LSMs ≥7.1 kPa in subjects with the Pi∗MZ genotype.
  • AAT inclusions were detected in liver biopsies of 63% of subjects with the Pi∗MZ genotype, vs 97% of subjects with the Pi∗ZZ genotype, and increased with liver fibrosis stages.

The associated editorial (pg 433-34) noted that Pi∗MZ genotype is a disease modifier in cystic fibrosis, alcoholic liver disease, and nonalcoholic liver disease.

My take: This study indicates that Pi∗MZ genotype for alpha-one antitrypsin are more likely to develop liver fibrosis in the presence of other risk factors like obesity and diabetes mellitus.

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Autoimmune Hepatitis -Early Response Associated with Remission

Briefly noted: S Pape et al .Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; 18: 1609-1617. Full Text: Rapid Response to Treatment of Autoimmune Hepatitis Associated With Remission at 6 and 12 Months

Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study, collecting data from 2 independent cohorts of adults (each with n=370) with AIH from 12 centers in 7 countries in Europe.

Key findings:

  • The authors found that a significant decrease in level of AST after 8 weeks of treatment was significantly associated with normalization of transaminase levels at 26 and 52 weeks (P < .001)
  • In both cohorts, rapid responders (≥80% decrease in level of AST after 8 weeks) were more likely to achieve normalization of transaminases at 26 and 52 weeks when compared to non-rapid responders
  • Rapid responders in the discovery cohort had lower risk of liver-related death or transplantation (adjusted hazard ratio 0.18)
  • Slow responders (without normalization of transaminases after 1 year) had the highest risk of liver transplantation or liver-related death.

My take: It is no surprise that patients who respond rapidly to treatment would fare better.  This study establishes a target of >80% improvement in AST at 8 weeks.

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