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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

South Carolina Examines Connection between Environment and Liver Disease in Obesity

Ms. Suvarthi Das, a doctoral candidate working in the lab of Dr. Saurabh Chatterjee at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, is studying the impact of environment on the liver – specifically nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – in obese people.

[Photo: Ms. Suvarthi Das (left)]

The studies being conducted in Dr. Chatterjee’s lab in the department of environmental health sciences are part of a growing body of scholarly work to understand NASH, which is considered a “silent” disease of the liver. Although NASH can resemble liver disease caused by the over-consumption of alcohol, it is found in people who drink little or no alcohol. It is the more serious form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

In addition to fat in the liver, NASH is characterized by inflammation and damage. In fact, people with NASH often appear to be in good health and have no symptoms of liver problems. Over time, NASH can lead to cirrhosis, which occurs when the liver is permanently damaged and unable to function properly.

“Obesity is rising at an alarming rate in the United States and in other countries around the world,” says Ms. Das. “Our research is important because there is no persistent biomarker for NASH, let alone any cure or specific treatment; also, we are the first lab to look at how the ever-increasing obesity pandemic potentiates environmental toxicity and aid in NASH progression.”

The study, published in The American Journal of Pathology, examined how exposure to bromodichloromethane (BDCM), a byproduct resulting from the chlorine-disinfection of water, can lead to NASH in people with obesity, even at its present permissible limit in drinking water. Her study found that the Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), a molecule that is crucial to the process of inflammation, contributes to the BDCM and redox signaling driven inflammation process in the liver.

“The results could lead to potential therapeutic targets for remediation of NASH in its early stages before any irreversible damage occurs in the liver,” explains Ms. Das.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) via the “Pathway to Independence Award” awarded to Dr. Chatterjee. Liver inflammation is also the focus of an NIH center grant for which Dr. Chatterjee’s lab received $865,000 from 2014 – 2019. The CAM Center for Epigenetic Regulation in Inflammation is being led by Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti. Dr. Chatterjee and Dr. Daping Fan are co-principal investigators for the project.

Dr. Chatterjee has also received COBRE PILOT funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (part of the COBRE USC, directed by Drs. Prakash and Mitzi Nagarkatti). The award of $206,000 for two years funded studies on alternative medications for attenuation of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.