Posted on July 7, 2012 at 1:23 PM
Saturday, Jul 7 at 1:41 PM
SAN ANTONIO -- Scientists in San Antonio are hailing a breakthrough: They’ve developed an animal model for a common liver disease that could lead to some incredible new therapies.
When a person has fatty liver disease, that vital organ is in distress. Fatty liver disease is associated with obesity and type two diabetes and can lead to the need for a liver transplant.
At Texas Biomedical Research Institute, scientists have developed this tiny Brazilian opossum into a model for fatty liver disease in people.
Since they are omnivores, eating plants and meat, they can be bred to have a genetic predisposition for liver problems, triggered into full blown disease by eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol -- just like people.
The important finding was just published in the July issue of the American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.
“When we understand these mechanisms, we can develop drugs to intervene in the disease process very early so that the people never develop the disease,” explained John VandeBerg, the chief scientific officer for Texas Biomed.
Texas Biomed is home to more than 2,200 of these opossums, making it the largest group in captivity anywhere. Knowing these animals can be managed to mimic such a growing human health threat, the creatures will likely be in demand by other scientists.
“This new discovery will create a great deal of interest in the use of this animal for research on liver diseases around the country and around the world,” VandeBerg said.
Nationwide, 2 to 5 percent of adults have fatty liver disease. But here in San Antonio, it’s a problem that’s estimated to affect up to 12 percent of the adults population.