Lay Summaries - Volume 77 Issue 5

Lay Summary:  For patients with compensated non-alcoholic steatohepatitis-related cirrhosis, the time spent in this state and the risk of progression to decompensation are not well-known in the population. We examined the clinical course of a large population-based cohort over 23 years of follow-up. We identified that adults with compensated cirrhosis spend a mean time of 4 years in this state and have a 10% per year risk of progression to decompensation or death. The risk of further progression is 3-fold higher in adults with cirrhosis and one decompensating event. These results are reflective of placebo arm risks in drug clinical trials and are essential in the estimation of adequate sample sizes.
Lay Summary:  The incidence of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, for which there are no approved pharmacological therapies, is increasing, posing a significant healthcare challenge. Herein, based on studies in mice, primates and humans, we found that dietary supplementation with vitamin B12 and folate could have therapeutic potential for the prevention or treatment of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
Lay Summary:  The prevalence of hepatitis C has increased in women of child-bearing age and has important implications for women who become pregnant and their infants. We evaluated the effect that hepatitis C has on pregnancy outcomes as well as the rate of hepatitis C transmission to infants in a large database with linked mother-infant records. We found that active hepatitis C during pregnancy increased the risk of pregnancy complications. We also identified very low rates of testing of infants born to mothers with hepatitis C, but found higher rates of hepatitis C transmission to infants in mothers with higher virus levels.
Lay Summary:  Hepatitis B is a long-lasting viral infection of the liver. Current treatments can suppress hepatitis B virus but do not offer the opportunity of cure, hence, new treatment approaches are required. Herein, we show that the combination of the novel core inhibitor vebicorvir with an existing antiviral (entecavir) in treatment-naïve patients chronically infected with hepatitis B virus demonstrated greater antiviral activity than entecavir alone. Additionally, vebicorvir was safe and well tolerated. Thus, further studies evaluating its potential role in the treatment of chronic hepatitis B are warranted.
Lay Summary:  Immunotherapy is a form of treatment that relies on harnessing the power of an individual’s immune system to target a specific disease or pathogen. Such approaches are being developed for patients with chronic HBV infection, in an attempt to mimic the immune response in patients who control HBV infection spontaneously, achieving a so-called functional cure. However, what exactly defines protective immune responses remains unclear. Herein, we show that functional cure is associated with robust responses by HBV-specific CD4 T cells (a type of immune cell).
Lay Summary:  Hepatitis B virus affects people’s livers and produces particles called hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) that damage a person’s liver and can help the virus infect a person for a long time, known as chronic hepatitis B (CHB). In this study, a new treatment called JNJ-3989 was assessed (in combination with normal treatment known as nucleos(t)ide analogues), for its safety and effectiveness in reducing the number of HBsAg particles in people with CHB. The results of this study showed that treatment with JNJ-3989 could be safe for people with CHB, lowered their HBsAg levels, and kept HBsAg levels lowered for 336 days in 38% of patients after receiving their last dose of JNJ-3989.
Lay Summary:  Neutrophils (a type of innate immune cell, i.e. an immune cell that doesn’t target a specific antigen) are thought to play a role in the development of biliary atresia (a rare but potentially lethal condition of the bile ducts that occurs in infants). Herein, we found that neutrophils expressing a particular protein (CD177) played an important role in bile duct damage by releasing a special structure (NET) that can trap and kill pathogens but that can also cause severe tissue damage. A pilot study in patients with biliary atresia showed that inhibiting NETs could have a beneficial effect.
Lay Summary:  Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is a rare inflammatory condition of the bile ducts. It can be treated with ursodeoxycholic acid, but a large percentage of patients respond poorly to this treatment. Liver-infiltrating memory CD8+ T cells recognizing the PDC-E2 immunodominant epitope are critical in the pathogenesis of PBC. We identifed the key pathogenic CD8+ T cell subset, and worked out the mechanisms of its hyperactivation and longevity, which could be exploited therapeutically.
Lay Summary:  Acute-on-chronic liver failure is associated with severe liver inflammation and poor short-term survival. Therefore, effective treatments are urgently needed. Herein, we have shown, using mouse models, that the combination of granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (which can promote liver regeneration) and TAK-242 (which inhibits a receptor that plays a key role in inflammation) could be effective for the treatment of acute-on-chronic liver failure.
Lay Summary:  There have been some recent reports that COVID-19 vaccination could be associated with acute liver injury. In our study, we found no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination increased the risk of acute liver injury, which was much more common after SARS-CoV-2 infection than after vaccination. Hence, our study provides further data indicating that the benefits of mass COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the potential risks.
Lay Summary:  Cirrhosis is associated with decreased responsiveness to several vaccines, including those against COVID-19. In this study of 26,082 participants with cirrhosis during the delta and omicron surge, receipt of the third dose of the vaccine was associated with an 80% reduction in COVID-19, a 100% reduction in severe/critical COVID-19, and a 100% reduction in COVID-19-related death. These findings support the importance of a third dose of mRNA vaccine among patients with cirrhosis.
Lay Summary:  Immune cells have the potential to slow or halt the progression of tumors. However, some tumors, such as intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, are associated with very limited immune responses (and infiltration of cancer-targeting immune cells). Herein, we show that a specific population of regulatory T cells (a type of immune cell that actually suppresses the immune response) are hyperactivated in intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. Targeting these cells could enable cancer-targeting immune cells to act more effectively and should be looked at as a potential therapeutic approach to this aggressive cancer type.
Lay Summary:  Our study defines the origin and function of macrophages (a type of immune cell) that are present in the liver and express a specific protein called TREM2. We find that these cells have an important role in protecting against non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (a progressive form of fatty liver disease). We also show that the levels of soluble TREM2 in the blood could serve as a circulating marker of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Lay Summary:  Generation of human hepatocytes from stem cells represents an active research field but its success is hampered by the fact that the stem cell-derived ‘hepatocytes’ still show major differences to hepatocytes obtained from a liver. Here, we identified an important reason for the difference, specifically that the stem cell-derived ‘hepatocyte’ represents a hybrid cell with features of hepatocytes and intestinal cells. We show that a specific protein (FXR) suppresses intestinal and induces liver features, thus bringing the stem cell-derived cells closer to hepatocytes derived from human livers.
Lay Summary:  The degree of liver fibrosis (tissue scarring) in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is the main predictor of negative clinical outcomes. Accurate assessment of the quantity and architecture of liver fibrosis is fundamental for patient enrolment in NASH clinical trials and for determining treatment efficacy. Using digital microscopy with artificial intelligence analyses, the present study demonstrates that this novel approach has greater sensitivity in demonstrating treatment-induced reversal of fibrosis in the liver than current systems. Furthermore, additional details are obtained regarding the pathogenesis of NASH disease and the effects of therapy.