Jun 8, 2022 - Health

The push to find treatments for liver disease prevalent among Latinos

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Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Health advocates say it's time to develop more preventative measures to curb the increasing rate of fatty liver disease among U.S. Latinos

Why it matters: The myth that cirrhosis is a disease related to alcoholism, and the associated stigma, have contributed to less research, advocates tell Axios.

  • Currently, there is no treatment for fatty liver disease other than diet and exercise. Health advocates say a significant health education campaign is needed to address fatty liver disease among Latinos.

By the numbers: Around 25% of U.S. adults, or 65 million people, have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Latinos have the highest rate.

Background: Fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat is stored in liver cells.

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common form of chronic liver disease, especially in Western nations.
  • Left untreated, it can develop into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, an aggressive form of fatty liver disease, which may lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

What they're saying: "Our modern society has created the problem of nutrition-based to chemical-based liver disease, and alcohol is not the main driver anymore," Wayne Eskridge, CEO of the Fatty Liver Foundation, told Axios.

  • In our current obesity epidemic, Latinos are most at risk since they have a genetic predisposition to have fatty liver disease, Eskridge said.
  • "They don't get medical care early enough. So they have a worse course, in the end, because they're sicker by the time it's discovered."

The Georgia-based biotech company Galectin Therapeutics is testing a new drug called Belapectin. The drug, targeted for release in 2024, aims to treat the latest stage of fatty liver disease, which is known as NASH cirrhosis.

  • Belapectin tries to decompress the pressure within the liver so the blood comes back to the organ and enlarged or swollen veins known as varices don't develop, Pol F. Boudes, Galectin Therapeutics’ Chief Medical Officer, says.
  • "We are trying to prove to the FDA that when patients take our drug, they do not develop these varices."

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that Belapectin can prevent varices, not viruses, from developing, and that the drug does treat the latest stage of fatty liver disease, known as NASH cirrhosis.

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