Viral & Autoimmune Hepatitis
Dr Zania Stamataki from the University of Birmingham will investigate the impact of targeting a new biological phenomenon called enclysis in viral and AIH. This is important because liver diseases are on the rise, and death rates due to liver cancer are increasing worldwide.
In autoimmune disease, a misguided immune system recognises its own tissue as a foreign pathogen and launches a relentless attack to eliminate the threat (i.e. an overactive immune system). In viral liver disease, an ineffective immune system fails to clear the virus, which leads to persistent infection for life. Studies have shown that Treg cells can impact the progression of both disease processes. So how does the liver regulate the regulators (Treg cells)?
Dr Stamataki’s team have identified a new process that may answer this question. “We recently discovered that the main cells that make up 80 per cent of the liver, hepatocytes, actively engulf T-reg cells and destroy them. We called this new phenomenon enclysis, from the Greek word for enclosure, confinement and captivity. Indeed, we found increased enclysis in AIH compared to hepatitis B livers donated to research after transplantation. It is therefore possible that toggling enclysis may help improve both disease outcomes, and we have planned a series of experiments to test this hypothesis using human liver tissues.”
Researchers are exploring two clinical approaches aimed at restoring balance in the immune system: one where protective T-reg cells are isolated from AIH patients, expanded in the lab and injected back into patients, with the hope of dampening inflammation; and the other where immune cells are isolated from viral patients, activated and injected back into patients to fight the virus. Dr Stamataki’s study will focus on understanding how to improve and prolong the effectiveness of these immunotherapies for patient benefit.
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Viral and autoimmune hepatitis
Why is there a need to fund new research?
Viral hepatitis is an infection that causes liver inflammation and damage. Chronic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and liver cancer.
Viral hepatitis B and C affect 325 million people worldwide, causing 1.4 million deaths every year. Although hepatitis B is more common in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it still affects around 180,000 people in the UK. Around 215,000 people have hepatitis C, making it the most common type of viral hepatitis in the UK.
Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) is a rare cause of long-term hepatitis in which the body’s immune system attacks and damages the liver. 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 more common in young women. It is not currently clear what causes AIH or whether anything can be done to prevent it.
Due to inherent problems with existing treatments for both viral and autoimmune hepatitis, new approaches are urgently needed.