Over the past 40 years, changes in our urban environment and diet have had a major impact on our lifestyles.
We are more sedentary and the quality of our diet and sleep is at its lowest in decades. These changes, coupled with an increase in life expectancy, are associated with an increase in the number of people with “cardiometabolic” diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, certain cancers and even certain neurodegenerative diseases.
Another cardiometabolic disease that frequently flies under the radar is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The liver is an important organ for food digestion, energy metabolism and nutrient management, and communicates with the intestine and the adipose tissue (the main component of our body fat). But non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a fairly silent disease, as there are few or no symptoms associated with it.
Our lab uses human genetics to identify targets to treat and prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and its complications.
Fatty liver disease and its consequences
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a disease that affects, on average, one in four adults and nearly one in 10 children worldwide. The disease progresses from reversible to irreversible stages.
The first stage is defined by the presence of steatosis (excessive accumulation of lipids in the liver to at least five per cent of the total liver mass). The next stage, which is also reversible, is characterized by inflammation of the liver cells (called hepatocytes). This inflammation may be accompanied by scar tissue (called fibrosis).
The development of the disease to irreversible stages, in more severe cases, can lead to cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. By 2025, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease will be the leading cause of liver failure and transplantation. Its complications, however, are not limited to liver disease. It is strongly associated with several other cardiometabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (the leading cause of death of those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).