Biopsy is the only way to identify liver fibrosis, an invasive procedure that often catches the disease only in later stages. Yang’s agent binds with collagen, a protein that is over-expressed as a result of fibrosis, alerting clinicians to the presence of early-stage disease using a non-invasive method. Imaging using her agent could help researchers identify regression of the disease during treatment, which could have major implications for treatment and new drug discovery.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2017, more than 41,000 Americans died from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. A 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older struggle with alcohol-use disorder, a number that is thought to be increasing during the pandemic. The largest and fastest-growing population at risk for developing fibrosis are individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is often associated with obesity and diabetes.