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US govt investing in Sydney liver study

Sydney researchers to examine the role of genetics in alcohol liver disease.

The US government is investing $2.5 million in a Sydney-based study on whether genetics plays a role in alcohol-related liver damage.

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital's drug health services and the Centenary Institute, a medical research institute, will genetically test thousands of participants in Sydney and across six other nations.

The US government's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is funding a $2.5 million grant.

Dr Devanshi Seth, the leader of the research project, said work was needed to explain why only a proportion of moderate to heavy drinkers were afflicted with liver cirrhosis.

"Nothing so far has been able to explain the unpredictability of why some people get cirrhosis and others who drink equal amounts don't," she said.

The study should lead to better diagnosis and treatment of the condition – a silent epidemic that costs $3.8 billion a year in Australia alone.

There is evidence that genes influence the development and progression of this disease, she said.

“We hope that by analysing the genes in a large international group comprising thousands of drinkers we can detect the genetic risks that predispose some drinkers to get alcoholic liver cirrhosis.”

While the disease has been predominantly seen among men over 50 years of age, it is becoming more frequent worldwide among younger adults and young women.

In Sydney, hundreds of participants will be recruited over the next three years through clinics at four hospitals – Royal Prince Alfred, Liverpool, Concord and Fairfield. Half of the participants will have cirrhosis and the other half, the control group, will have been heavy drinkers for 10 years but are free of liver disease.

The large study will also be conducted with clinicians and researchers from the USA, UK, Germany, Switzerland and France.

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