Regenerating hope for liver disease

15 Sep 2006

A protein essential in the process of liver regeneration has been identified by a team of scientists, in a discovery that could lead to treatments for serious liver diseases such as hepatitis. 

The protein, caveolin-1, was identified as being necessary for regeneration by a team of scientists from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at The University of Queensland, and the University of Barcelona. 

“The liver has an amazing capacity to regenerate and repair itself after damage, such as a heavy session of drinking,” Professor Robert Parton, one of the team leaders, said. 

“But in some diseases, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis, the liver is so damaged that it loses this regeneration capacity. 

“Identifying that caveolin-1 is an essential ingredient in the process of liver regeneration brings us a step closer to finding treatments for people whose livers are not able to heal themselves.” 

The team members made their discovery by comparing normal mice with mice that were unable to produce caveolin-1. 

The livers of the vast majority of normal mice were able to regenerate after damage, while three-quarters of the mice without caveolin-1 died if they sustained significant liver damage. 

“The livers of mice that couldn't produce caveolin-1 were not significantly different to normal mice before any damage occurred,” Professor Parton said. 

“This suggests that other proteins may compensate for the lack of caveolin-1 when the liver is functioning normally, with its essential role becoming apparent only when the liver is injured.” 

The team's findings have been published in the current edition of top international journal Science, on the eve of UQ's Research Week

Research Week celebrates the outstanding research that is produced at The University of Queensland with public forums, seminars, workshops and the annual UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards. 

Media contacts: 
Professor Rob Parton – 07 3346 2032 
Bronwyn Allan, IMB Communications – 07 3346 2134 or 0418 575 247