Tech Blog: NASH Diagnostic Discovered
Nathan Cherrington, Ph.D., ATS, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies and Professor Photo credit: Alison Mairena
With funds from the National Institute of Health, Nathan Cherrington, Ph.D., ATS, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies and Professor at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy has created a non-invasive diagnostic to determine if someone has Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH), a chronic liver disease that irregulates the function of the liver.
A silent killer, NASH affects an estimated 30 to 50 million patients, with only around 300,000 of them being properly diagnosed. Currently the only diagnosis for NASH includes a painful liver biopsy, which can result in heavy blood loss. As of now, more than 20 drugs are going through clinical trials that have the potential to cure NASH. However, to cure the patients, doctors must be able to properly diagnose them.
|Slides courtesy of Nathan Cherrington, Ph.D., ATS.|
“We found a way that takes advantage of the molecular mechanisms that are associated with NASH progression,” said Cherrington. “We were able to find three molecular mechanisms that are all altered in NASH that result in a very specific change based on drug disposition.”
Most of Cherrington’s research involved finding the perfect drug to accompany the molecular change in a NASH-affected liver. The drug needed to be approved for use in people, and had to be absolutely safe for those having taken the drug for long periods of time without any toxicity. After 15 years of research, Cherrington was able to find a drug that meets that safety criteria and is specific and selective for the three molecular mechanisms that are altered by NASH. By adding his invention of measuring a specific metabolite in the blood or urine, he has been able to develop a safe alternative to diagnosing NASH.
According to Cherrington, the concept of the method is this: an individual would be given a smaller dose of the drug than the standard dosage patients generally take for years, and then a metabolite is measured in the blood or urine. Because of the low dose, the drug does not generate a therapeutic effect, let alone a toxic effect. Due to the changes in NASH livers, the metabolite shows up in blood or urine samples from NASH patients where it normally does not appear.
“I went to one of the drug companies and their interest level is extraordinarily high and the suggestions that they have made as to how useful this will be to them are really exciting. On top of that is just the idea that this could be used as a general screening tool to identify the patients that can start taking lifesaving therapies,” he said. “I’m not developing a lifesaving drug, but I’m helping to find patients who can take the lifesaving drugs, so participating in that process, that’s the rewarding part.”
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