Alcoholic cirrhosis can happen after years of drinking too much alcohol. Now, a team of researchers has discovered a gene via one of the largest genome-wide studies that may decrease the likelihood of developing deadly liver disease.
The gene is called 'Fas Associated Factor Family Member 2', or FAF2.
The researchers from Indiana University's School of Medicine in the US are now studying this gene more closely and looking at its relationship to other, previously-discovered genes that can make a person more likely to develop alcoholic cirrhosis.
"There's this convergence of findings now that are pointing to the genes involved in lipid droplet organisation pathway, and that seems to be one of the biological reasoning of why certain people get the liver disease and why certain people do not," explained Tae-Hwi Schwantes-An, an assistant research professor of medical and molecular genetics and the lead author of the study.
"There's a real public health problem involving the consumption of alcohol and people starting to drink at a younger age," added Suthat Liangpunsakul, one of the principal investigators of the study published in the journal Hepatology.
For the study, DNA samples were taken from over 1,700 patients from sites in the US, several countries in Europe and Australia.
The patients were divided into two groups -- one made up of heavy drinkers that never had a history of alcohol-induced liver injury or liver disease and the second group of heavy drinkers who did have alcoholic cirrhosis.
"We know for a fact those genes are linked together in a biological process, so the logical next step is to study how the changes in these genes alter the function of that process, whether it's less efficient in one group of people, or maybe it's inhibited in some way," Schwantes-An said.
"We don't know exactly what the biological underpinning of that is, but now we have a pretty well-defined target where we can look at these variants and see how they relate to alcoholic cirrhosis".
The team hopes to eventually find a way to identify this genetic factor in patients with the goal of helping them prevent alcoholic cirrhosis in the future or developing targeted therapies that can help individuals in a more personalised way.