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Approved Research

Defining the genetic and non-genetic determinants of fibrosis

Principal Investigator: Professor Louise Wain
Approved Research ID: 77050
Approval date: April 26th 2022

Lay summary

Scarring of the internal organs occurs in many common diseases, including diabetes (scarring in the pancreas), hypertension (blood vessels), chronic kidney disease (kidney), cirrhosis (liver) and interstitial lung disease (lungs). Scarring of the internal organs can alter the function of these organs dramatically and accounts for one third of all deaths world-wide. People may be affected by more than one scarring disease.

Factors that are believed to contribute to scarring include smoking, alcohol, obesity and infectious diseases such as COVID-19. There are also a number of genetic risk factors that can run in families and can determine the time of onset of scarring in different organs.

It is likely that a unique combination of genetic and environmental risk factors leads to scarring of different organs happening at different times. If we can identify patterns of scarring in early life, we might be able to prevent the development of more extensive scarring in multiple organs in later life, by encouraging people to change their lifestyle or by treating them with medicines.

The aim of our research is to identify why fibrosis occurs in different organs, often within the same patient, and how we can treat it.

Using UK Biobank, we will assess whether scarring which takes place in different organs, involves the same or similar genetic and environmental causes, and will identify the biological pathways that lead to scarring getting worse.

In this way we hope to be able to stop scarring from destroying the organ in which it is found and prevent it spreading to other organs by using a single treatment for scarring, rather than always having to use individual treatments for each organ. These treatments could involve lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise, or new drug treatments. We hope this will improve the quality of life for people with organ scarring and reduce the number of treatments needed to prevent scarring getting worse.

Ultimately, we hope that by understanding the causes of scarring and reasons that scarring gets worse we will prevent the long terms problems that are observed when people get scarring in one or multiple organs in the body.