Powerful new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect when a liver is fatty, what kind of fat is present and the level of inflammation. Liver disease in Canada is now more commonly caused by lifestyle than by alcohol consumption.
Photo Credit: CBC

Scientists clean livers too fatty for transplant

So many people are becoming obese in Canada that doctors are finding that many livers donated for transplant have signs of fatty liver disease. A team of doctors in the eastern city of Halifax is researching ways to remove some of the fat from the organs so they will be more suitable for transplanting.

Scientists in eastern Canada are working on keeping livers alive outside the body while flushing some of the fat out of them. © CBC

Poor diet and lack of exercise can harm livers

Fatty liver disease is largely caused by a poor diet and lack of exercise. Lifestyle changes in Canada and other western countries mean that those two factors have now surpassed alcohol consumption as the main cause of liver disease.

One in four adults and one in 10 children in Canada are clinically obese, according to the Canadian Obesity Network. Statistics suggest that 75 per cent of obese people are at risk for developing fatty liver disease and 25 per cent at risk for fatty liver disease with inflammation, which is worse. This can progress to fibrosis, cirrhosis and, in some cases, liver cancer.

Looking for fluids to flush fat

Once removed from the body, doctors can keep a liver alive for four to six hours and during that time can profuse or pump fluid through it to preserve it and help it flush some of the fat it contains.

“Even if we can remove the fat of a very severely fatty liver to become mildly fatty that would still allow us to use that liver for transplant purposes,” said Dr. Ian Alwayn, a transplant surgeon and an associate professor at Dalhousie University to CBC News. He and other scientists are trying to identify which agents would work best at de-fatting livers.

Doctors want easier ways to diagnose fatty liver disease early and to chart its progression. © CBC

Easier diagnosis needed

The doctors are also looking at better ways to diagnose fatty liver disease. Currently, patients must undergo an MRI or get a biopsy.  Easier methods would help diagnosis the disease early and encourage lifestyle changes to ease it. They would also help doctors monitor the effects of treatment.

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