New findings in the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

A study by the Dr. Margarete Fischer-Bosch Institute of Clinical Pharmacology (IKP) in Stuttgart found that protective immune cells in the liver reduce oxidative stress in obese subjects. This could herald a new approach in the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Bosch Health Campus | October 2023
Pixabay / Mohammed Hassan

Obesity is on the increase in the population and is the cause of many diseases, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Minimal exercise and an unhealthy diet often lead to obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD affects almost one in four adults in Germany and, despite this high rate, there is currently no treatment available. A study found hitherto undiscovered links between protective liver immune cells and oxidative stress, thereby offering a new research approach to treat NAFLD in the future.

The study was carried out with the participation of Dr. Margarete Fischer-Bosch Institute of Clinical Pharmacology on the Bosch Health Campus. The Karolinska Institute in Sweden led the study, and researchers from University College in London, the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and the University of Freiburg also took part.

The more doctors know about a diseased organ, the more effectively they can treat it.

The scientists identified functionally different subpopulations of liver immune cells in lean subjects (body mass index (BMI) ≤ 25) and in obese subjects (obesity, BMI > 35). The findings indicate that non-inflammatory factors play an essential role in liver function. One of the subpopulations examined contained protective immune cells that counteract harmful oxidative stress in the liver. It was also found that the number of protective cells decreases in obese subjects, and there is no positive effect on the fat content of the liver.

AG Lauschke (Nuria Oliva-Vilarnau)

Microscopic image of a human 3D liver culture used for the study (fatty degeneration of liver cells shown in green).

"This collaborative research revealed that not all liver immune cells are the same,” explains Prof. Dr. Volker M. Lauschke, Deputy Head of the Dr. Margarete Fischer-Bosch Institute of Clinical Pharmacology. “We can build on this knowledge and develop targeted treatments that boost ‘good’ immune cells to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.”

The links identified in the study represent a promising basis for further investigations of immune cell populations in the liver and are therefore an important step towards targeted treatments for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.