Pediatric Fatty Liver Disease Study: New York City

A recent autopsy study (DM Fernandes et al. J Pediatr 2018; 200: 174-80) examined nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in a pediatric cohort of 582 (2-19).  Approximately 75% were in 14-19 years of age and 50% were black; black pediatric patients (n=290) were over-represented in this sample only 25% of the New York population is black or African American based on the 2010 census.

Key findings:

  • Causes of death: 49% homicides, 31% accidents, 10% acute illness, 9% suicide, 1% other
  • Overall, NAFLD was present in 4.5%; this low overall prevalence was due in part to the low rate of NAFLD in black children; only 3 of 290 (1%) had NAFLD and none had nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
  • The rate of NAFLD was 7.9% in hispanics and 8.3% in white patients.
  • In this cohort, 36% were overweight or obese.  In this subgroup, 14.1% of hispanics and 14.8% of whites had NAFLD.
  • Overall, NASH was present in 1.7% of the entire cohort.  NASH and fibrosis have been shown in prior studies as the best predictors of disease progression

My take: If black children are not killed by homicide or accidents, it is unlikely that they will die from NAFLD due to its low prevalence.

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Sunshine Meadows, Banff

Silymarin for Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis

A recent study (CW Kheong et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2017; 15: 1940-9) examined the use of silymarin (milk thistle) in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Patients (n=49) who were assigned to silymarin received 700 mg three times a day for 48 weeks; there were 50 patients assigned to placebo..

Key findings: 

  • Silymarin did not significantly improve the primary outcome of achieving a lower NAS score by 30% or more; this occurred in 32.7% of the silymarin group vs. 26.0% in the placebo group.
  • Reduction in fibrosis was noted in the silymarin group (histology drop by 1 point or more): 22.4% compared to 6.0% in the placebo group.

Silymarin has many potential beneficial properties: anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrotic, anti-viral, and metabolic functions.

My take: Given the safety of silymarin, if these findings can be confirmed in a larger trial, it would be an exciting advance in the field of fatty liver disease which has no proven pharmacologic therapies.

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Grand Canyon Basin

Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Review

A concise and useful review of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): AM Diehl, C Day. NEJM 2017; 377: 2063-72

A couple points:

  • About 25% of adults have fatty livers in the absence of excessive alcohol consumption
  • NASH is strongly associated with obesity/overweight which occur in  >80% of patients
  • NASH comorbidities in adults: 72% with dyslipidemia, 44% with type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • In a typical patient with NASH, liver fibrosis progresses “at a rate of approximately one stage per decade, suggesting that F2 fibrosis will progress to cirrhosis within 20 years.” However, there is considerable variability.
  • It is expected that NASH will be the leading reason for liver transplantation by 2020.
  • Cirrhosis related to NASH increases the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma with this occuring in 1-2% per year of patients with cirrhosis.
  • NASH is estimated to cost >$100 billion currently in annual direct medical costs
  • Staging of NASH and differentiation from isoloated steatosis identifies those at high risk for sequelae.
  • In Table 2, the authors list more than 10 pharmacologic agents in phase 2/3 studies

Current lifestyle treatment recommendations (for adults):

  • Lose 7% of body weight if overweight or obese
  • Limit consumption of fructose-enriched beverages
  • Limit consumption of alcohol (no more than 1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men)
  • Drink two or more cups of caffeinated coffee daily

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Panels A & B show typical histologic findings: ballooned hepatocytes (arrows), inflammatory infiltrates (arrowheads), and fibrosis Panel C shows the relative distribution of NASH, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma in U.S. Adults.

Research for Fatty Liver Disease

Recently the AASLD Postgraduate Course discussed emerging treatments for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease/nonalchoholic steatohepatitis. From AASLD News: Emerging Treatments for NASH 

Key point:

  • Quentin Anstee: “It is important to remember that our patients with fatty liver disease will most likely die of cardiovascular disease, not liver disease.”

Four principles in treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to address both cardiovascular and liver risks.

  • Target obesity with lifestyle changes and, possibly, bariatric surgery.
  • Target metabolic syndrome to reduce cardiovascular disease risk using medications with additional liver-directed benefits.
  • Target liver disease to prevent progression of steatohepatitis to fibrosis and cirrhosis.
  • Minimize downstream complications such as hepatocellular carcinoma.

More than 60 phase 3 trials are underway –Primary Therapeutic Targets:

  • PPAR signaling (insulin signaling, glucose and lipid metabolism, energy homeostasis, inflammation)
  • FXR signaling (insulin sensitivity, glucogenesis, lipogenesis)
  • ASK1 signaling (apoptosis)
  • CCR2/CCR5 signaling (inflammation and fibrogenesis).

Will Emerging Therapies for Fatty Liver Disease Be Affordable?

With non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), there are currently no established medical therapies.  However, several candidate medications look promising. However in recent years, many new medications have come with an impressive price tag and this has led to questions about whether emerging therapies for NASH will be affordable.

A recent article looked at the medication Obeticholic Acid, which was approved for treating primary biliary cholangitis.  It is possible that it will be helpful for NASH.  Yet, its cost , currently, is about $70,000 per year

GIHepNews: Despite clinical promise, obeticholic acid may be too expensive for treating NASH

Here’s an excerpt:

In the 72-week Phase II trial, called FLINT, 273 men and women with NASH were randomly assigned to receive OCA or placebo (Lancet 2015;385:956-965). Liver histology improved in 45% of those receiving OCA versus 21% in those receiving sham therapy (P=0.002). An increased risk for pruritus was the most notable adverse event among patients taking OCA (23% vs. 6% for placebo), according to the researchers. Based on the favorable benefit–risk results of the Phase II study, a Phase III trial is ongoing…

The expected benefit of OCA over lifestyle modifications for all the major long-term outcomes, such as decompensated cirrhosis (10% vs. 9.4%), liver-related mortality (9% vs. 8.1%) and transplant-free survival (72.2% vs. 71.5%), were relatively modest, the researchers reported. Those differences resulted in a cost per quality-adjusted life-year saved of $5.2 million with the assumption that 16% of patients would relapse…

 “If the efficacy compared to placebo is of the same order found in the FLINT trial, the current cost of the drug would be prohibitive in a population-based context,” said Dr. Lavine, who was a co-investigator on the trial.

My take: Given the growing burden of NASH, new effective treatments are needed.  In my view, though, cost-effectiveness has to be a consideration.

Prague Castle

NASH: What Helps Beyond Weight Loss?

Full text from ACG article: NASH: What Helps Beyond Weight Loss?

The article reinforces the value of weight loss and exercise for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).  It suggests that Vitamin E and/or pioglitazone may be helpful. Many more medications are being evaluated.

My take: As of now, losing weight and exercise remain the cornerstone for NASH treatment.

Bariatric Surgery and Reversal of NASH

A small prospective study (M Manco et al. J Pediatr 2017; 180: 31-7) provides evidence that bariatric surgery/sleeve gastrectomy is effective at reversing nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and hepatic fibrosis in adolescents (n=20).

All patients in this study had BMI >35 and weere 13-17 yrs of age.

Key findings at one year following intervention:

  • Among the 20 patients who underwent sleeve gastrectomy, there was a 21.5% loss in baseline weight, which compared with weight loss of 3.4% among 20 patients who received intragastric balloon device and weight increase of 1.7% among 53 patients who received lifestyle intervention counseling.
  • Sleeve gastrectomy group had resolution of NASH in all 20 and disappearance of hepatic fibrosis in 18 (90%).  In the intragastric balloon group, NASH reverted in 24% and fibrosis in 37% whereas there was no improvement in the lifestyle intervention group.

Full text link: Sleeve Gastrectomy for NASH

Limitations are discussed in the editorial by Inge and Xanthakos (pgs 6-7) and included small sample size, absence of patients with type 2 diabetes, and short followup period.  Nevertheless, this is “the largest and most informative series…in select adolescents with severe obesity.”

My take: Given the lack of effective pharmaceutical therapy and the typically impotent effects of lifestyle intervention, this data supports bariatric surgery to facilitate weight loss/NASH reversal in select adolescents.

Related article: JCF Leung et al. Hepatology 2017; 65: 54-64.  This study showed that the histologic severity and clinical outcomes are modestly better in nonobese patients (n=72) with NAFLD compared with obese patients (n=307). High triglycerides and higher creatinine were associated with more advanced liver disease in nonobese patients.

Briefly noted: D Houghton et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2017; 15: 96-102.  This study with 24 subjects with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis showed that exercise reduced hepatic triglyceride content, visceral fat, and plasma triglycerides. However, circulating markers of inflammation and fibrosis was not reduced.  The implication is that exercise should be part of NASH treatment but that weight management/diet are needed as well.

Glacier Natl Park

Glacier Natl Park

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