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Autoimmune hepatitis research fund launched in memory of Andrea Colvile

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In July, Robert Colvile launched a charity appeal to fund new research into autoimmune hepatitis, following the tragic death of his wife Andrea at the age of 40.

The reaction to the JustGiving page he set up was extraordinary: having raised £10,000 within six hours, he ended up raising more than £100,000, once private donations were included.

Today, Robert is launching a new fund in partnership with the Medical Research Foundation to help researchers identify causes of autoimmune hepatitis, potential biomarkers to aid earlier diagnosis, and targets for novel treatments.

Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare cause of long-term hepatitis in which the immune system attacks and damages the liver. Eventually, the liver can become so damaged that it stops working properly.

Existing treatments aim to reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system, but this can also reduce the immune system’s ability to fight infection. It is not currently clear what causes the condition, who is most vulnerable, or whether anything can be done to prevent it.

There are thought to be around 10,000 people living with autoimmune hepatitis in the UK, and although both men and women can develop the condition, it is much more common in women.

Andrea developed the disease shortly after giving birth to her second son. Steroids were used to contain the problem but after six months of treatment the damage to her liver became too severe for her to survive a transplant.

The fund is launching with a target of raising £50,000 on top of the existing donations, in order to fund a major research project into the disease over the next three years.

Robert said: “Everyone we spoke to told us that the Medical Research Foundation - the charitable arm of the Medical Research Council - was the gold standard in terms of the quality of research they support, and the rigour with which they scrutinise applications. Their mission is to fund research into diseases that do not receive sufficient attention and this seemed to be absolutely the best and most cost-effective way to support vital research.”

Angela Hind PhD, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Foundation, said: “We have been deeply moved by Andrea’s story, and are grateful to Robert for giving us the opportunity to respond - in an area of health where new approaches to treatment are desperately needed. We hope this new fund will support research that increases our understanding of autoimmune hepatitis and ultimately, we hope these insights will save lives.”

To support research into autoimmune hepatitis, visit Robert's JustGiving page.

Bryony Gordon will be running the 2020 London Marathon for the Medical Research Foundation, in memory of Andrea. Read Bryony's article in the Telegraph, or visit her fundraising page.