Gut bacteria may help diagnose liver disease

liver disease

Researchers from KU Leuven, University Hospitals Leuven, and VIB have found a way to diagnose the chronic liver disease PSC on the basis of patients’ gut flora (microbiota). Their findings open up new possibilities for the development of microbiota-based treatments such as faecal transplants.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) is a chronic liver disease with no effective cure. As a result, some patients end up needing a liver transplant. Most patients with PSC also have inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis). This may imply that the intestine plays a role in the origin of PSC.

The research groups of Professor Jeroen Raes (KU Leuven/VIB) and Professor Séverine Vermeire (KU Leuven/University Hospitals Leuven) have now shown that PSC is associated with specific changes in the gut flora. As a result, the signature of PSC is distinct from that of inflammatory bowel disease.

Professor Raes and Professor Vermeire teamed up to unravel the role of gut flora in the development of gastro-intestinal diseases. They combined their expertise in the metagenomics of gut flora and the clinical aspects of gastroenterology, respectively. This study presents the first results of their collaboration.

“Using massive DNA sequencing, we compared the gut bacteria of patients with PSC and healthy people,” Professor Raes explains. “Based on the differences found, we were able to develop a signature to diagnose PSC based on gut bacteria. Although very promising, our findings now need to be confirmed before they can be used in clinical practice.”

The findings may not only lead to a novel diagnostic tool for PSC, but may also be the starting point for the development of microbiota-based therapies. But there is still a long way to go.

Professor Vermeire explains: “In the future, gut bacteria may be used to help identify PSC patients with a more or less aggressive disease, or patients who may benefit from microbiota-based therapies such as faecal microbiota transplantation or targeted pre- and probiotics.”

Both teams are planning to further investigate the complex interactions between the immune system and the intestinal microbiota in PSC patients.

Click here to read the original study in Gut (open access)