JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s being called a major breakthrough for people suffering from fatty liver disease, a potentially fatal condition in which fat grows inside the liver, causing the organ to become damaged and stop working.
Results from a clinical trial being conducted at the Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research (JCCR) are giving patients new hope for survival. The breakthrough comes in the form of a pill designed to specifically imitate a thyroid hormone that only works to get rid of fat in the liver.
And according to researchers, the treatments are working without harmful side effects. It’s called resmetirom, and researchers say it could reverse the effects of the disease and prevent people from needing a life-saving transplant.
Clinical trials of the drug here in Jacksonville and at clinical research centers across the U.S. involving more than 1,000 patients with fatty liver disease have proven the strategy works. Doctors say the disease is very common with more than a quarter of the U.S. population having it. Fatty liver disease goes together with obesity and higher levels of bad cholesterol.
Dr. Michael Koren is the director of the JCCR.
“The liver is responsible for removing these things from the body and you can overwhelm the liver. But when you get fatty liver, it could progress to further stages,” Koren said. “First, it’s an inflammatory stage and then it becomes fibrosis where you have scarring and then you develop cirrhosis where the liver stops working.”
When that happens, a person needs a liver transplant operation to survive. Koren says fatty liver disease has become the No. 1 reason for referral for a liver transplant.
But this new drug that is showing major success in clinical trials could significantly reduce the need for those costly operations that run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“That’s our goal, to hope that we can really change that,” he said. “Drugs came out about 20 years ago that completely got rid of hepatitis C as a problem, and prior to that, hepatitis C was a big source for people developing end-stage liver disease and ultimately needing a liver transplant. The goal for fatty liver is the same.”
Although some people have a genetic predisposition to developing fatty liver disease, Koren says an overwhelming majority of patients develop the condition due to a lifestyle of unhealthy eating and not exercising. It’s a condition that develops over a long period of time, and even with the use of this new medication, it may still take some time to reverse.