GALAXY - Research and innovation programme to combat cirrhosis of the liver

ELPA is proud to support and collaborate with partners within GALAXY's project Advisory Board (gut-and-liver axis in alcoholic liver fibrosis), the project that will investigate the precursor of alcoholic liver cirrhosis, i.e. alcoholic liver fibrosis to enable early detection and treatment. This will ultimately result in a reduction of mortality, morbidity, healthcare costs and lost productivity.

A research group led by Odense University Hospital in Denmark has received 6.3 million € from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme to combat cirrhosis of the liver, which has a lower survival rate than several types of cancer.

Liver cirrhosis accounts for 1.8% of all deaths in Europe causing around 170,000 deaths per year. Europe is the heaviest drinking region in the world and alcohol is the main cause of liver disease, including cirrhosis. Survival rates for liver disease have not shown the same improvement in recent years as seen for many types of diseases, but the research group GALAXY, led by Odense University Hospital, is about to change that.

Aleksander Krag and his colleagues have noted that people vary in their sensitivity to alcohol. About 5-10% of heavy drinkers get cirrhosis of the liver. Other people will also develop the disease even at modest drinking levels, but we cannot predict who that will be. This means that many patients are diagnosed so late that they already have irreparable damage to their livers.

Liver damage needs to be detected much earlier

The goal of the 6-year research project is to find an easy and effective way to identify the people who do not know that they have the disease. This could, for example, be a blood test can detect early liver damage and predict who will more quickly develop liver cirrhosis and are thus in most need of treatment.

The answer is expected to be related to the bacteria living in the intestine. The research group's hypothesis is that these bacteria interact with the liver to either protect it or to promote the formation of scar tissue in the liver.

Tatjana Reic, President of the European Liver Patients' Association, welcomes the prospect of new knowledge in the area:

"Given the enormous burden alcohol-related liver disease places not only on patients but also on their families and healthcare systems, ELPA is pleased to be able to support this initiative as part of the GALAXY advisory board.  We look forward to collaborating with Prof. Krag and his team as they endeavor to find a way of identifying patients with alcohol related liver disease in the earliest possible stage of liver damage."

The research project has started on the 1st January 2016 and will run for six years.

Facts about the research group

The project is run by a consortium called GALAXY. Besides Odense University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark, the group includes:

  • Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen
  • Steno Diabetes Center
  • University of Oslo (Norway)
  • European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg (Germany)
  • Universitätsklinikum Bonn (Germany)
  • Academy of Biomedical Research Foundation (Greece)
  • Nordic Bioscience
  • Nordic Rebalance

The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 668031.