Doctors can one day undo the damage that years of heavy drinking cause to the liver, a new study suggests.
This damage, called cirrhosis in the liver and fibrosis in the lungs, is an endless process of scarring that can happen to almost any organ with age, disease, and repeated injury.
Scar tissue can catch up with the healthy tissue of an organ and prove to be fatal, as with terminal liver and lung disorders – and there is no cure, only mitigation.
But scientists at Mayo Clinic are about to change that.
In laboratory tissues and mice, they discovered that the research team discovered that they could block the two proteins that & # 39; instructions & # 39; contain for the formation of fibroblasts – pieces of scar tissue – slowing down and even reversing the fibrosis process.
Scientists have discovered a way to reverse the process that causes scar tissue to replace healthy tissue and cause liver and lung diseases in experiments with petri dishes and mice.
The liver of an alcoholic looks just as sick as he is.
The work that a liver must do to process alcohol is heavy, such as years of heavy manual labor on hands and muscles.
Removing alcohol and other toxins – as well as performing other functions such as storing glucose, making blood proteins and bile – makes the liver vulnerable to infections such as hepatitis B and C and over time damages it in what we call liver disease to mention.
Slowly, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue. Blood cannot flow so well through this tough tissue and the ability of the liver to process the toxins and nutrients pumped through it starts to decrease.
Once cirrhosis begins, there is no longer anything that doctors can do to push healthy liver tissue back to where scar tissue has taken over shortly after a full organ transplant.
A nearly identical process takes place in the progression of lung disease, although it is called fibrosis instead of cirrhosis.
The scar tissue is stiffer than the strong but flexible tissue that makes up healthy lungs, so fibrosis patients have trouble breathing well and coughing and wheezing often.
The progression of damage and scarring of lung and liver diseases is well known and well understood by scientists, but the details of the development of these diseases are still the subject of fast-growing research.
In recent years, scientists have discovered two proteins that seemed to engage certain genes and which in turn send instructions to the lungs or liver that tell scar tissue to deploy.
The two proteins, YAP and TAZ, are involved in other diseases, in particular cancer.
But they are also crucial in the & # 39; social dynamics & # 39; of how different cells communicate with each other, as well as how wounds heal and even such basic regulatory functions as ensuring that a cell retains its size.
So despite the fact that YAP and TAZ are tempting goals to stop both tumor growth and fibroblast development, scientists couldn't easily block them without disrupting a whole cascade of other essential biological processes.
But the Mayo Clinic team wanted to take a closer look at the fibroblasts themselves to find a way to block YAP and TAZ isolated.
And, as their new study reveals, they found it: dopamine.
Fibroblasts specifically in the lungs and liver have found a dopamine receptor, the same neurotransmitter with which we can feel pleasure and pain.
"Dopamine is mostly studied in central nervous system disorders, and we were surprised to find dopamine receptors expressed in fibroblasts," said lead research author Dr. Daniel Tschumerlin.
Stimulating the dopamine receptors in the fibroblasts did something remarkable for the scar tissue precursors.
It caused them to switch modes. So if YAP and TAZ drive the destructive vehicle that is fibrosis in & # 39; put dopamine add to the equation it in & # 39; inversely & # 39 ;, stopping the formation of scar tissue and even inverting into samples of mice and petri dishes.
"In addition to following the regulation of dopamine signaling in the lung, we are actively developing new molecules to address the dopamine receptor because we believe there is a substantial promise in an effort to translate this approach into human diseases," said Dr. . Tshumerlin.
About 100,000 people in the US suffer from irreversible lung fibrisos and another 30,000 to 40,000 people are diagnosed each year.
One in 400 American adults has cirrhosis of the liver, which only gets worse over time.
But as the Mayo Clinic study suggests, if the same process is safe in humans, recovery might be possible.
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